How to Design a Winning Capital Management Plan


capital-4-22-19.pngThe significant downturn in bank stock prices witnessed during the fourth quarter of 2018 prompted a number of boards and managements to authorize share repurchase plans, to increase the amounts authorized under existing plans and to revive activity under existing plans. And in several instances, repurchases have been accomplished through accelerated plans.

Beyond the generally bullish sentiment behind these actions, the activity shines a light on the value of a proactive capital management strategy to a board and management.

The importance of a strong capital management plan can’t be overstated and shouldn’t be confused with a capital management policy. A capital management policy is required by regulators, while a capital management plan is strategic. Effective capital management is, in large part, an exercise in identifying and understanding future risks today. Capital and strategy are tightly linked — a bank’s strategic plan is highly dependent on its capital levels and its ability to generate and manage it.

There are a couple of guidelines that executives should bear in mind as they develop their capital management plans. First, the plan needs to be realistic and achievable. The windows for accessing capital are highly cyclical. There’s limited value in building a plan around an outcome that is unrealistic. Second, if there is credible information from trusted sources indicating that capital is available – go get it! Certain banks, by virtue of their outstanding and sustained performance, may be able to manage the just-in-time model of capital, but that’s a perilous strategy for most.

Managements have a number of levers available to manage capital. The key as to when and which lever to pull are a function of the strategic plan. A strong plan is predicated on staying disciplined but it also needs to retain enough nimbleness to address the unforeseen curveballs that are inevitable.

Share Repurchases
Share repurchases are an effective way to return excess capital to shareholders. They are a more tax-efficient way to return capital when compared to cash dividends. Moreover, a repurchase will generally lift the value of a stock through the reduction in shares outstanding, which should increase earnings per share and the stock price itself. Share repurchases are generally the favored mechanism of institutional owners and can make tremendous sense for broadly held and liquid stocks.

Cash Dividends
Returning capital to shareholders in the form of cash dividends is generally viewed very positively in the banking industry. Banks historically have been known as cash-dividend paying entities, and the ability and willingness to pay them is often perceived as a mark of a healthy and stable company. A company’s decision regarding whether to increase a cash dividend or to repurchase shares can be driven by the composition of the shareholder base. Cash dividends are generally valued more by individual shareholders than institutional shareholders.

Business Line Investment
Community banking at its core is a spread dependent business. The ability to diversify the revenue stream through the development or acquisition of a fee generating business can be an effective and worthwhile use of capital. Common areas of investment include mortgage banking, wealth management, investment products and services and insurance. Funding the lift out of lending teams can also be a legitimate use of capital. A recent development for some is investment in technology as an offensive play rather than a defensive measure.

Capital Markets Access
Effective capital management plans also consider the ability to access the capital markets. In the community banking space, accessing capital is not always a foregone conclusion. Over the past couple of years, the most common forms of capital available have been common equity and subordinated debt. For banks of a certain size and market cap, it’s a prudent capital management strategy to file a shelf registration, also known as form S-3, which provides companies with flexibility as to how and when they access the capital markets. The optionality provided by having a shelf registration far outweighs the concern that the shelf itself suggests a shareholder dilutive activity is on the horizon.

It’s important to note that these capital management activities can be utilized individually or in combination. An acquisition may necessitate the need to access the capital markets. Or given the relative inexpensiveness of sub debt, raising some for the purpose of a share repurchase could make sense. A strong capital management plan can allow a management team to be ready both offensively and defensively to drive their businesses forward in optimal fashion.

Information contained herein is from sources we consider reliable, but is not guaranteed, and we are not soliciting any action based upon it. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, based on interpretation of data available at the time of original publication of this article. These opinions are subject to change at any time without notice.

Should Banks Repurchase Stock Right Now?


stocks-2-5-19.pngWith expectations of regulatory reform and growth in organic capital generation, it is generally expected that over the next 12 months banks will continue to return capital to shareholders through continued M&A activity, dividend increases or share buybacks.

Given the current market environment, it is an opportune time for banks to consider initiating a share repurchase program.

As market volatility continues, a growing number of banks have been implementing share repurchase – or stock buyback – strategies to manage capital and shore up stability. During volatile periods, financial companies are frequently the first to feel the pain, and buyback programs are a means of getting in front of potential price dips and preserving value.

The buyback market set records in 2018 across many industries. As of late December, more than $1 trillion in share repurchase programs had been authorized – eclipsing the $655 billion total for 2017. The third quarter of 2018 was especially active, with financial institutions making up the third-largest sector. In the bank buyback space alone, 22 repurchase programs were announced in October, 18 in November and 27 in December.

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Generally, companies that participate in share repurchase programs are carrying cash on the balance sheet in excess of what is necessary to fund daily operations and growth opportunities. The question then becomes how to use it. Given the relative slowdown lately in the M&A market, buybacks have presented banks with the opportunity to accomplish a variety of goals.

Reasons why banks undertake share repurchase programs:

  • Reducing the number of outstanding shares can be accretive to earnings per share, making the company more attractive to investors 
  • A buyback signals to the market that a bank views its share price as undervalued
  • It can absorb overhang from capital markets transactions
  • These programs can help manage or optimize capital structure 
  • They return excess capital to shareholders 
  • Buybacks can offset or mitigate the dilution from employee equity compensation awards

What banks should keep in mind when pursuing buybacks:

  • It will reduce capital available for future growth and acquisitions
  • A buyback utilizes cash and regulatory capital and may impact book value
  • They will likely reduce the number of shareholders and future share liquidity.
  • The impacts are temporary.
  • Blackout periods may apply.
  • Banks with pending acquisitions where the target shareholder vote has not taken place cannot execute a buyback unless the transaction is paid with solely cash, or unless the bank was repurchasing shares pursuant to SEC Rule 10b-18 in the three months preceding the announcement.

While there is no cookie-cutter profile for companies that elect to participate in share repurchase programs–they vary in terms of market capitalization, balance sheet composition and industry sector – there is a well-defined and strictly regulated process these types of transactions must follow.

While SEC Rule 10b-18 governs the parameters of a buyback, including the manner of purchase, the timing of the repurchases, the prices paid and the volume of shares repurchased, companies executing a buyback program should consider the benefits of Rule 10b5-1.

The rule provides companies the ability to establish a buyback plan in an open window that can be executed during closed trading periods. Many companies establish 10b5-1 plans to ensure continuous execution of their buyback strategy and to take advantage of periods of market volatility where opportunistic purchases may be realized.

The buyback market is busy and breaking records. The Corporate & Executive Services team at Raymond James has discussed repurchase programs with more than 50 regional banks in recent months.

Now is a good time for banks with excess capital to weigh their options and reach out to partner firms that can help develop and execute successful repurchase strategies.

Investment products are: not deposits, not FDIC/NCUA insured, not insured by any government agency, not bank guaranteed, subject to risk and may lose value. © 2019 Raymond James & Associates, Inc., member New York Stock Exchange/SIPC. © 2019 Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC. Raymond James® is a registered trademark of Raymond James Financial, Inc.

More Banks Want To Sell For This Reason


liquidity-1-14-19.pngPeople often ask what are the main factors that are motivating banks to sell. Not surprisingly, sellers frequently cite a lack of succession planning, a lack of scale and increasing costs for technology and compliance.

But one surprising area that is becoming more influential is shareholder liquidity, now more often the primary factor we see pushing institutions to sell.

For many banks, the age of their average shareholder is approaching or exceeds 70. This leads to three primary challenges:

  • As shareholders pass away, the personal representative often needs to liquidate shares in order to settle the estate. If the issuer can’t provide a source of liquidity, the estate will “dump” the shares, sometimes at a steep discount.
  • Other shareholders are engaged in estate planning and seeking to sell shares.
  • Local shareholders are bequeathing shares to children and grandchildren spread all over the country who have no commitment to the community or desire to hold shares in the local bank.

There are also de novo banks whose investors bought in during the late 1990s and early 2000s with the promise of a 10- to 15-year time horizon. They are 20 years older and eager for a liquidity event.

There are many tools institutions can use to provide shareholders with increased liquidity, including:

1. Matching Programs. Some of our clients keep “interested purchaser” and “interested sellers” lists, in order to help match prospective buyers and sellers. This can be a simple way to help shareholders find an avenue for sale. If a shareholder asks for help in selling their shares, you can provide them with a list including the contact information of interested purchasers.

There are important considerations when administering a matching program. You will want to (1) avoid activity that would require registration with the SEC as a broker-dealer, and (2) make sure you, as the issuer, are not seen as “offering” the shares. To mitigate those risks, you should play a very limited role in any matching transaction. You should not negotiate, offer opinions, handle transaction money, or actively promote the service or solicit customers. You may, however, provide certain limited information and make shareholders aware of the service.

2. Repurchase Programs. Repurchase programs can take many forms, but the two most common are buyback programs and tender offers. With a buyback program, the board adopts a policy authorizing the company to repurchase shares within certain parameters. You may then inform shareholders of the program, but you may not actively solicit shareholders to participate in the program. Alternatively, a tender offer is an active solicitation whereby you ask a shareholder to make an investment decision in a limited amount of time. Furthermore, a tender offer is often more successful because it is “easy.” A shareholder simply needs to accept the issuer’s offer and doesn’t need to engage in negotiations with the company or other unfamiliar shareholders. Tender offers also allow the issuer to target strategic goals, such as offering redemption to small shareholders or out-of-state shareholders.

There are certain bank regulatory considerations involved with any share buyback or redemption transaction. In addition, specific securities laws and requirements apply to tender offers.

3. Transfer Services. Legislation enacted in recent years (the JOBS Act and the FAST Act) allows the use of a third-party online platform to implement certain securities transactions. By using a third-party platform, you can remain involved and offload most of the compliance risk to the vendor. Such platforms can often act as a white-labeled bulletin board for your shareholders to interact.

4. Listing. There are always the options of listing your securities over-the-counter (or OTC), on the recently-created bank-specific OTCQX, or going public and listing your shares on NASDAQ or NYSE.

To fund some of the repurchase initiatives identified above, some banks have successfully raised new capital from community members and customers, many of whom have not had the opportunity to invest in the bank. When a repurchase program is coupled with an offering, several banks have successfully “recycled” their shareholder base, buying time to execute their strategy without the added pressure of liquidity concerns.

There are a lot of options to consider, but community bank executives and boards should be aware of the increasing challenge shareholder liquidity is presenting to their peers and how to manage it proactively.