Bank mergers and acquisition (M&A) announcements are no longer a rarity, with more deal announcements coming every month. But for every successful transaction, another 10 transactions have died or stalled. And sometimes these are the deals that can be most educational for community bankers who want to get into the M&A market. For instance, the following five issues are hampering many would-be deals:
1. Many banks have organically grown themselves out of the M&A market due to concentration issues. One of the most overlooked consequences of aggressive organic growth in a low-rate environment is now becoming clear. Most high-growth banks focused on commercial real estate loans (particularly in urban and suburban markets) have maxed out their concentration levels relative to capital, based on regulatory thresholds. In these cases, regulators will hold pending deals hostage unless the acquiring bank agrees to inject more capital. It’s been reported that New York Community Bank’s failed acquisition of Astoria Financial is an example of high concentrations of real estate loans undoing a deal. One thing that helps: Meet with regulators far earlier in the deal process to check their temperature.
2. Buyer beware: the mortgage banks are coming to market. There are many small banks that depend too heavily on their mortgage business to drive earnings. In some cases, the core bank would not even be profitable without its mortgage arm. As a result of the historically low and prolonged rate environment, mortgage companies have been doing well, particularly with refinancings booming in 2011 and 2012, and home purchases picking up in the years since. However, now that we are transitioning to a new environment with rising interest rates, the situation may change.
Most executives and investors in banks with mortgage companies understand this and are looking to exit. The problem is they want their banks to be valued on their recent earnings. But a buyer is not buying a bank’s recent earnings, it is buying its future earnings. In a rising rate environment, refinancing can dry up, and home purchases won’t be able to make up the difference. Smaller banks with mortgage operations tend to be more heavily skewed toward refinancing than other banks, making them even more vulnerable. As a result, their valuations can be grossly overstated, if these issues are not recognized. When negotiating with such a bank, focus on what percentage of a small bank’s business is refinancing versus home purchases, and what percentage of the cost structure is fixed versus variable. Mortgage bankers also are often cut from a different cloth than commercial bankers, so cultural fit should be scrutinized.
3. A deal that appears to be expensive from a price-to-tangible book value perspective is not as expensive as it appears. Most bank acquisitions are structured as a stock purchase of the holding company’s equity. However, in the vast majority of cases, the only true asset acquired is the subsidiary bank. But there is a big difference between the target holding company’s capital structure and the subsidiary’s capital structure, which too many acquirers are ignoring. Acquisitive banks need to educate their investors on the value of such things as inexpensive trust-preferred securities (TruPS) and debt that may be on the holding company’s books. By assuming TruPS and debt, you are essentially purchasing bank capital at tangible book value. Banks must find hidden value by analyzing in detail the differing capital structures between a target’s parent company and its bank subsidiary.
4. Acquiring a bank with equity can introduce control issues. One problem associated with using equity as a currency for the buyer is the selling bank’s shareholders could own a meaningful percentage of the equity in the buyer. This is far less of an issue if the selling bank’s shares are widely held. However, many community banks, particularly on the small side, are controlled by a single shareholder or family. As a result, this single shareholder could become the largest shareholder in the buyer after the deal, especially if he or she is receiving a significant portion of the purchase consideration in stock. The normal playbook is for this shareholder to agree to certain restrictions related to voting, selling of shares in the open market, and other restrictions.
5. Look for more creative transactions that solve problems. Many banks are struggling with financial issues such as concentration issues, high loan-to-deposit ratios and a compressing net interest margin. Acquisition targets that alleviate these problems may not make immediate sense from a strategic perspective. The targets may not be geographically perfect, perhaps they aren’t adjacent to the acquirer’s footprint, or maybe they’re unattractive from a macroeconomic perspective. However, for the reasons previously mentioned, these targets may actually have premium value to the acquirer. It goes without saying that the acquiring bank’s management must come up with an operational plan to manage execution risk, but these outside-the-box deals often create the most value and lead to cutting-edge strategies that fetch higher premiums from investors in the long term.