Much like the countless dystopian novels and movies released over the years, the environment today in banking begs the question of whether we’ve entered a so-called new world in the industry’s M&A domain.
Deal volume in 2018 was roughly equal to 2017 levels, though many regions in the country saw a decline. And while it’s still early in 2019, the first two months of the year have been marked by a pair of large, transformative deals: Chemical Financial Corp.’s merger with TCF Financial Corp., and BB&T Corp.’s merger with SunTrust Banks. These deals have raised hopes that more large deals will soon follow, creating a new tier of banking entities that live just below the money-center banks.
Aside from these two large deals, however, M&A volume throughout the rest of the industry is down over the first two months of the year. As you can see in the chart below, this continues a slide in deal volume that began at the tail end of 2018.
Bank Director’s 2019 Bank M&A Survey highlights a number of the factors that might impact deal volume in 2019 and beyond.
Fifty-seven percent of survey respondents indicated that organic growth is their current priority, for instance, though respondents were open to M&A opportunities. This suggests that banks are more willing to focus on market opportunities for growth, likely because bank management can more easily influence market growth than M&A. The strength of the economy, enhanced earnings as a result of tax reform, easing regulatory oversight and industry optimism in general also are likely contributing to the focus on market growth.
The traditional chasm between banks that would like to be acquirers and banks that are willing to be sellers seems to be another factor influencing banks’ preference for organic market growth. In all the surveys Crowe has performed of bank directors, there always are more buyers than sellers.
The relationship between consolidation and new bank formation also weighs on the pace of acquisitions. If the pool of potential and active acquirers remains relatively stable, the determiner is the available pool of sellers. Each year since 2008, the number of acquisitions has exceeded the number of new bank formations. The result is an overall decrease in the number of deals. It stands to reason, in turn, that this will lead to fewer deals each year as consolidation continues.
Current prices for bank stocks also have an impact on deal volume. You can see this in the following chart, which illustrates the “tailwind” impact on deal volume for publicly traded banks. Tailwind is the percentage by which a buyer’s stock valuation exceeds the deal metrics. When the percentage is high, trading price/tangible book value (TBV) exceeds the deal price/TBV and deal volume is positively affected. The positive impact sometimes is felt in the same quarter, but there can be a three-month lag.
In the beginning of 2019, bank stock prices recovered some of the declines they experienced in the latter half of last year, but they still are at a negative level overall. If bank stock prices continue to lag behind the broader market, as they have over the past year (see the chart below), deal volume likely will be affected for the remainder of the year.
It’s still too early to predict how 2019 will evolve for bank M&A. Undoubtedly there will be surprises, but it’s probably fair to assume a slightly lower level of deals for 2019 compared to 2018.
The year 2016 was filled with tumult and that had a negative impact on activity in the bank mergers and acquisitions (M&A) market, while higher bank stock prices are adding to the uncertainty. Will higher stock prices last? Will they lead to higher valuations in the months ahead? This article takes a look at M&A activity in 2016 with an eye toward how the environment could impact pricing and trends in 2017.
After posting 285 healthy bank acquisitions in 2014 and 279 deals in 2015, the market slipped back to 241 last year, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence. There are several reasons for this, but they can all be summed up in a single word—uncertainty. And bankers hate uncertainty like dirt hates a bar of soap.
In the first quarter of 2016, the sharp decline in the price of oil and economic softness in China and in Europe led to concerns about how that might impact the U.S. economy. There was even some talk that economic weakness abroad could result in a recession here in the United States by the end of 2016. “When oil fell off, combined with the China thing, it really took the bloom off of the rose,” says Dory Wiley, president and chief executive officer at Commerce Street Holdings, a Dallas-based investment bank. The Southwest, where Wiley works, saw a drop off in deal-making following the fall-off in oil prices. “It kind of froze all the buyers and a lot of deals, and of course sellers are always very reluctant to change their price expectations, so it slowed the amount of deals.”
The U.S. economy did not in fact slip into a recession in the second half of 2016, growing 2.9 percent in the third quarter, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. (Data for the fourth quarter was not available when this article was written.) But there was still plenty of uncertainty entering the second half of the year, which perhaps had an even more paralyzing effect on the M&A market. Once the presidential election campaign between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump had gone into full swing (both parties held their nominating conventions in July), it seems that some bank boards decided to hold off on a possible acquisition or sale in hopes that a Trump victory would create a better economic environment for banks, and have a positive impact on bank stocks.
Stocks, indeed, rose. The KBW Nasdaq Bank Index, a compilation of large U.S. national money center and regional bank stocks, expanded from 63.24 on January 19, 2016, to 75.42 on November 7, for an increase of 16 percent. However, immediately following the presidential election the index shot up from 75.42 on November 7 to 92.31 as of January 12 of this year, an increase of 22 percent. While Donald Trump’s election victory might have been received as good news by many bankers, it seems to have brought about a slowdown in M&A activity precisely because bank stock prices were going up. With valuations on the rise, some boards were reluctant to sell out if their franchise could fetch a higher price later on by waiting.
Johnathan Hightower, a partner at the law firm Bryan Cave LLP, supports this theory with data that shows a noticeable slowdown in deal flow in the fourth quarter of 2016. There were 88 announced deals in the fourth quarter of 2014 and 82 in the fourth quarter of 2015. In the final quarter of last year, the number of announced deals dropped off to 62. “I think a good bit of that can be attributed to uncertainty on the political scene,” says Hightower.
As we head into 2017, the biggest question might be how high bank stock prices will go, because continued increases may discourage M&A activity as buyers and sellers alike try to work out how deals should be valued, and what kind of structure should be used. “I think whenever you see a sharp change in valuation like we’ve seen over the past eight weeks or so, it does cause some complication in working out exchange math and exchange mechanics,” says Hightower. For example, does the seller want to lock in a fixed exchange ratio or opt for a structure that would allow the deal price to float higher if its stock price continues to rise? “The seller is doing that same sort of math on its end, so it can be hard to reach agreement, or at least require some creativity in structuring a deal,” he says.
How much higher can bank stock prices go? Jim McAlpin, who heads up the financial services practice at Bryan Cave, says he recently led a strategic planning session for the board of a Texas bank. “I was talking to the CEO about where the board was on a possible sale,” McAlpin recalls. “He said that given the recent changes [in the bank’s stock price], they’re now thinking that three times book value is possible. A year ago I would have laughed hard at that. I only chuckled this time because he said there was a bank across the street that went for 2.3 times book value. We just recently saw a bank in Georgia go for almost 2.7 [times book value] in part because of rising valuations.”
For an industry that has been dogged by low interest rates, margin pressures and economic sluggishness for several years now, the future suddenly seems very bright. But will it last? “The interesting question that no one can answer right now is, will we see a real shift in economic growth that would support an overall lift in those valuations?” asks Hightower. “Can we expect banks to have healthy, sustainable growth because we’ve got healthy, sustainable growth in the overall economy?”
Prices remained fairly steady from 2014 through 2016. According to S&P, average deal pricing was 1.42 times tangible book value in 2014, then went up slightly to 1.43 in 2015 before dipping back down to 1.35 in 2016, despite the steady run up in stock prices through the year. But we’ve now entered a period where, as the mutual fund industry likes to say, past performance may not be indicative of future results. “When you look at what the market has done in the last three to four months, with the election behind us … I don’t know that past pricing is going to be as relevant as it was,” says Wiley.
Other factors that impacted the M&A market last year include a kind of speed control that bank regulators exercise over the pace of deals. While the regulators are generally more receptive to acquisitions than they were in the years immediately after the financial crisis, and are approving deals much faster now, they still limit the frequency of deals for even experienced acquirers. “You’d be lucky to get somewhere between one and three [deals a year now],” according to Wiley. And that has added a layer of complexity to the M&A process, particularly for investment bankers. “So a guy calls you up and says, ‘Hey, run some comps, figure out what I’m worth.’ That’s not enough,” he says. “The investment banker running the deal has to know who’s in the market, who isn’t in the market and when they’re going to be in the market because it’s not an easy answer anymore.”
And because they are limited as to the pace they can string deals together, many acquirers have become more selective in what they are willing to buy. “Even with stock prices rallying like they have the last three or four months … it doesn’t mean that the acquirer can run around and just give his stock away because he’s got to be picky,” says Wiley. “He’s like, ‘Hey, I only get a couple shots at this because the regulators aren’t going to let me do anything.’’’
Does that mean it is now a buyer’s market? “I thought it was a buyer’s market for the last eight years,” says Wiley. “The only thing now is that the buyers are starting to realize it. They’ve got a big stock price now and they’re feeling good about themselves. Somebody told them they were pretty.”
Many bank merger and acquisition (M&A) experts have predicted for years that consolidation would increase significantly due to pressures from regulatory burdens, lack of growth in existing markets, and aging boards and management teams that are ready to exit.
2014 might be the year when these expectations are realized. While activity the first quarter of 2014 was only slightly ahead of prior years, the second quarter saw a dramatic increase—74 deals were announced, which is the highest of any quarter since the credit crisis of 2008. Annualized, the total number of announced transactions will exceed 260, which is on par with many of the pre-crisis years of the 2000s.
The level of deal volume is below many expectations. However, historical perspective might help clarify why 2014 is shaping up to be a pretty strong year for M&A. From 1991 through mid-2014, the absolute number of deals declined over time, as has the number of available charters to acquire. The percent of charters acquired in any given year fluctuates from between 2.0 percent and 4.5 percent, with a 3.3 percent average over this period. On an annualized basis, 2014 will be close to the high of 4.5 percent, which means that 2014 could be a very good year based on the number of available charters. Regardless of any future predictions, one fact seems clear: The banking system has a capacity for a certain number of transactions in any given year, and it might be that the industry’s current pace is the maximum number of deals in a year given the number of available targets.
What has been driving deal volume in 2014? The first focus is credit quality in the industry. As illustrated in the following chart, credit quality has continued to improve industrywide, which is directly correlated to deal volume. When credit quality is poor, deal volume decreases; when credit quality improves, deal volume follows suit.
Pricing is another issue that affects deal volume. Obviously, when prices are high more sellers consider a transaction as opposed to when the prices are depressed. Over the past six years, pricing has been lower than prior to the credit crisis. It seems unlikely given accounting rules for acquisitions and the related impact on capital that the heady prices realized in the late 1990s will be reached again. There are indications of improvement in pricing, however, as many have reconciled to the new norm.
While the largest concentration of prices is slightly below tangible book value, the total percentage of deals with prices below tangible book values is smaller than in prior years and a strong band of deals with pricing of between 140 percent and 150 percent of tangible book value has emerged. In general, prices have increased from one year ago. Credit quality affects pricing, and because industrywide credit quality has improved, it should come as no surprise that pricing also has improved and that some deals that had been stalled by low pricing are seeing renewed movement.
Reviewing deal characteristics by region also shows improved credit quality and improved pricing.
The Midwest experienced the largest number of transactions, but it also includes the largest number of charters. Additionally, the average size of selling banks in the Midwest is the lowest of all regions, which is reflected in the pricing. One region that changed significantly from prior years was the Southeast. Previously, the average return on assets (ROA) of the sellers in that region was negative, and average nonperforming asset levels were very high compared to other regions. This trend has reversed, and for the first time since the credit crisis, the Southeast experienced positive average ROA and improved levels of nonperforming assets. The result is an average price-to-tangible book value in excess of 100 percent. Previously, this ratio was less than 100 percent (from 2012 through June 30, 2013). The West experienced the highest average price-to-tangible book value for the period.
*Note: Median deal values are in millions. Median assets are in thousands.
FDIC Transactions Continue to Decline The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) reported that as of March 31, 2014, there were 411 banks on the agency’s Problem Bank List—almost half of the 813 banks included at year-end 2011. As a result, the number of FDIC closures also has declined dramatically, and it appears that about 25 problem banks will be resolved through a sale in an FDIC-assisted transaction. Based on anecdotal experiences, the FDIC has been very patient with a number of the banks it is closely monitoring as many of these institutions have been able to complete recapitalizations or their credit issues have improved enough to be acquired in a non-FDIC-assisted transaction. This trend likely will continue, and the level of available transactions should be modest.
Branch Transactions Continue at Consistent Pace Branch deal volume has been fairly consistent over the past four years and is on pace to be similar to 2012. Deposit premiums have held fairly steady at approximately 2.5 percent of deposits. For many community banks, small one- or two-branch networks are the only feasible acquisition opportunities. As larger and regional bank holding companies continue to evaluate their branch networks, there likely will continue to be acquisition opportunities available.
While announced deal volume continues at a tepid pace, key drivers of M&A activity are starting to emerge. With more than 90 percent of the banking companies nationwide operating with assets of less than $1 billion, it is inevitable that consolidation will be concentrated at the community bank level. Six factors that point to a pick-up in M&A activity in this space are as follows:
1. Bank equity prices are rising with an increasing valuation gap between small and large banks. Bank stocks overall have increased nearly 30 percent in 2013; however, banks with less than $1 billion in assets continue to trade at significant discounts compared to larger banks.
As the chart above indicates, the valuation gap has widened for larger banks, which enjoy a median 51 percentage point premium as of August 31, 2013. Larger banks can use this valuation advantage to present attractive deal pricing to smaller banks.
2.Very few FDIC-assisted transactions remain. Since 2008, 485 banks have failed representing nearly 7 percent of banking companies in the U.S., according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Essentially; FDIC-assisted transactions filled the void of traditional open-bank deals. With troubled bank totals dwindling and only a few significantly undercapitalized banks remaining, FDIC-assisted deals are diminishing. Acquisitive companies have moved on from this once lucrative line of business to evaluate more traditional deals.
3.Improved asset quality is leading to reduced credit marks. While merger discussions have occurred in recent years, the due diligence phase often brought deal negotiations to a screeching halt. With elevated credit marks (in some cases exceeding 10 percent), parties were unable to bridge the valuation gap. Over time, banks have made significant progress in reducing classified assets and writing down assets that more closely approximate fair value. With credit marks now modestly exceeding the target’s allowance for loan and lease losses, capital and book value can be preserved, which in turn, translates to more favorable deal pricing.
4.Several high profile deals have been announced at attractive premiums. Achieving certain benchmark pricing levels in M&A often is a catalyst for deal activity. Sellers are always looking for market information to help formulate a strategy on whether or when to sell. On the other side, buyers do not want to be perceived as overpaying, which is usually viewed in the context of pricing relative to other recent deals. Transactions like MB Financial’s acquisition of Cole Taylor Group at 1.82 times tangible book value and Cullen/Frost Bankers’ acquisition of WNB Bancshares at 2.84 times tangible book have already spurred discussion inside many boardrooms.
5.Economies of scale in the banking industry have never been more crucial. The need and desire to grow exists at virtually every institution. As the chart below indicates, efficiency ratios have remained consistently lower at larger banks.
Whether driven by regulatory costs, technology, marketing, pricing power, expanded lines of business/other revenue sources, larger banks appear to have clear performance advantages. This increasingly important trend will spur institutions to grow via acquisitions in order to spread certain fixed costs over a larger asset base and thereby improve operating efficiencies.
6.Mergers among community banks. None of the preceding points are intended to suggest that banks under $1 billion will not participate as buyers of other community banks. In fact, since 2010, banks of less than $1 billion in assets have announced or completed 280 acquisitions, comprising more than 41 percent of the deal activity during that period. A recent example of this type of deal involved Croghan Bancshares, which has $630 million in assets and is headquartered in Fremont, Ohio. Croghan is buying Indebancorp, which has$230 million in assets and is headquartered in Oak Harbor, Ohio. After considering other alternatives, Indebancorp chose Croghan, a larger community bank, as a partner. The deal was structured with 70 percent of the consideration in Croghan stock and priced at 134 percent of Indebancorp’s tangible book value. The deal value per share was 28 percent higher than Indebancorp’s stock trading price and cash dividends to Indebancorp shareholders will increase by almost 200 percent. On a pro forma basis, Indebancorp shareholders will own approximately 26 percent of Croghan’s shares following the deal.
Making M&A predictions is always challenging, but here at Austin Associates, we believe many community banks will make the decision to sell within the next few years. When M&A returns to full capacity, expect at least 300 transactions per year, or 20 percent consolidation of the industry within five years. Pricing will continue to increase, but do not expect to see pre-crisis multiples any time soon. Moreover, pricing will be highly dependent on the target’s unique profile (size and performance), as well as local and regional market factors.
The past three years have seen bankers and industry pundits anxiously awaiting the so-called and highly anticipated wave of consolidation in the banking industry. There are many reasons why increased consolidation is expected, including sellers with less access to capital and, therefore, less opportunity to grow independent of a merger, a belief that banks must be larger to compete and absorb the cost of regulation, a lack of organic growth in existing markets, and compressed earnings.
Despite all of these reasons —some real and some perceived—the pace of consolidation has been modest, at least compared to the predictions of the past several years, begging the question: Where is all the M&A? According to the recently released Bank Director & Crowe Horwath LLP 2013 M&A survey, two of the primary barriers to buying other banks are concerns over credit quality and unrealistic pricing expectations of sellers, both of which we’ll examine in more detail.
Credit Quality Concerns
There is a direct correlation between the level of nonperforming loans and the number of deals that are realized. The following graph illustrates the pattern between nonperforming assets (NPAs)/loans and other real estate owned (OREO) and the number of deals announced in any given year. As the graph indicates, when the level of nonperforming assets is high, the number of announced deals is low.
The period most similar to that of the past several years is the early 1990s, when the savings and loan crisis occurred and the government established the Resolution Trust Corporation to resolve a number of failed institutions. Today, the level of nonperforming assets is still too high for many acquirers to accept. While the level has improved from its high in 2010, it is still higher than historical norms. Until loan quality significantly improves, buyers will find it difficult to pay the prices sellers are requiring.
Unrealistic Pricing Concerns
Pricing concerns from sellers is another frequently mentioned reason for deals not occurring. While sellers are not expecting the high levels that occurred pre-crisis, they aren’t willing to sell for a low price. The following graph illustrates the distribution of price to tangible book value achieved by sellers for the period beginning in January 2011 and going through Dec. 7, 2012.
While deal prices have improved and sellers in some regions have been able to achieve prices in excess of 200 percent price to tangible book value, the majority of the deals have closed at below 110 percent price to tangible book value, and almost 40 percent of the deals have been below 100 percent price to tangible book value. For many markets, a price to tangible book value of 140 to 150 percent would be the new “gold standard.” Until this pricing ratio average improves, though, it doesn’t seem likely that the number of deals will increase dramatically.
So where will the number of deals be in 2013? Any prediction is worth the ether it’s posted in, but all indications suggest that deal volume will continue to be steady but well below the significant levels of consolidation predicted. Through Dec. 2, 2012, the number of announced whole bank deals was at 209. During the pre-crisis years of the 2000s, the number of whole bank deals per year was approximately 225 to 250. So 2012 will finish with levels below the pre-crisis normative levels, but up from 2011. In the M&A survey, we asked respondents to provide us with their expectations as to where deal volume will be in 2013. The following chart shows that the majority of the respondents believe that deal volume will be less than 200 deals, with 80 percent estimating deal volume will be less than 225 deals in 2013.
Deal Volume Expectations for 2013
While the wave of consolidation might eventually occur, all indications, including banks’ own expectations, suggest consolidation levels likely will remain status quo for the time being.
Over the past several years, numerous pundits have predicted a wave of consolidation in the banking industry based on a number of factors, including increased cost of regulation, limited access to capital, and lack of growth opportunities, to name a few.
While the current level of uncertainty in the marketplace and the level of pricing available to sellers have kept the pace of consolidation consistent, the levels are well below the predicted tidal wave of consolidation.
Deal activity for the first six months of 2012 indicates a pace of consolidation ahead of 2011 and 2010 levels, but still well below levels before the credit crisis. The year-to-date price-to-book value (P/BV) and price-to-tangible book value (P/TBV) ratios for bank deals are improved over 2011 indexes and consistent with 2010 indexes.
In a survey on merger and acquisition conditions jointly conducted by Bank Director and Crowe Horwath LLP in October 2011, one of the primary impediments to consolidation was reluctance to take a chance on an acquisition in uncertain economic conditions. This concern can be translated into uncertainty regarding credit quality.
History has shown that high levels of credit problems in the banking industry inversely impact the number of acquisitions closed.
To put this into more qualitative terms, buyers and sellers tend to view the levels of credit issues in different ways, and bridging the chasm between the two views has impeded acquisitions. In fact, survey respondents indicated that concern over the asset quality of selling institutions was the number one reason why they would not engage in bank acquisitions.
Lower FDIC Deal Volume
As the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) continues to work with troubled institutions, the number of assisted transactions has diminished from its peak in 2010.
# of Deals
Avg. Assets Sold
Source: SNL Financial
In addition to a decrease in the number of deals in 2012 from prior years, the average asset size of the institutions sold has also decreased. This indicates that the FDIC has resolved the issues for most of the larger troubled institutions and is now focusing on the remaining smaller institutions.
The FDIC also has been structuring more transactions in 2012 and 2011 without loss-share agreements, which were prevalent in 2010 transactions.
FDIC-Assisted Deals and Loss Share
Some of this trend can be attributed to buyers opting against having the FDIC as a future business partner, and some is the result of the FDIC not offering loss-share agreements or offering loss-share agreements on only a part of the loan portfolio. This trend likely accounts for some of the increase in the asset discount on those deals in 2012 closed with a loss-share agreement. Based on a review of recent deals, the FDIC is tending to offer loss-share agreements on commercial loans instead of on single-family mortgage loans.
It looks as though the number of FDIC-assisted transactions will remain low in 2012, with the year on track to be substantially below 2011 transaction levels.
Slow and Steady
Although overall deal volume has increased thus far in 2012, indicators still point to consistently slow activity in bank mergers and acquisitions—a far cry from the tidal wave of consolidation many had predicted. While credit is improving and the number of banks on the FDIC’s troubled bank list has decreased, the level of nonperforming loans is still higher than optimal. This higher level of nonperforming loans will continue to affect the level of bank merger and acquisition activity in 2012.