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Spotting Risk in Community Bank Acquisition Targets

Posted by Wendell Brock on Fri, Oct 09, 2009

In the beginning of 2009, the media was pushing the idea that this would be the year for the community bank. Many smaller banks had not weighted down their balance sheets with subprime loans, asset-backed securities and complex derivatives. In theory, they had the stability to pick up loan customers that had been turned away by larger institutions. Columbus Business First published an article entitled, "Larger competitors' retrenchment may give smaller banks opening." And Business Week said, "As big banks struggle, community banks are stepping in to offer loans and lines of credit to small business customers."

Getting in to the banking industry during a power shift from big banks to small ones would appear to be an attractive opportunity for bank executives and community leaders who wish to be bank investors. But the predictions of a few publications don't sufficiently address the risk involved in buying a bank. Bank investors need to have some framework for separating the good targets from the bad ones.

Characteristics of at-risk community banks

In a speech made last July, San Francisco Fed President Janet Yellen summarized the characteristics of at-risk community banks. She cited:

  • High concentrations of construction loans for speculative housing projects
  • Concentrations of land acquisition and development loans
  • Poor appraisal systems
  • Weak risk-monitoring systems

Looking ahead, Yellen also identified "income-producing office, warehouse, and retail commercial property" as an area of potential risk. She cited rising vacancies and poor rent dynamics, which are putting negative pressures on property values. These value declines can be particularly problematic for maturing loans that need to be refinanced. Community banks that maintain large portfolios of commercial property loans should be proactively managing these risks. Bank acquisition groups should verify that target banks are updating property appraisals, recognizing impairments early, and negotiating work-outs with borrowers when appropriate.

Tim Coffey, Research Analyst for FIG Partners, LLC, agrees that commercial real estate is the next area of risk for banks. In an interview, Coffey said,

I think the residential portion of this correction has been dealt with and recognized by bankers and market participants alike. The next shoe to drop is going to be commercial real estate. I don't think there is really any kind of argument about that. How messy it's going to be compared to the residential part remains to be seen.

Coffey's comment was included in a report by The Wall Street Transcript that also quoted commentary from other banking analysts. The consensus among them was that some community banks are still facing potentially disastrous problems ahead.

Separating the good acquisition targets from the bad ones, then, requires careful analysis of the balance sheet, loan portfolio and the bank's current risk management practices. If the bank isn't managing risk proactively, there could be unknown problems brewing within the loan portfolio. Buying a bank with known problem assets is a manageable challenge-but buying a bank with unknown problem assets is something else entirely.

Topics: Community Bank, mergers and Aquisistions, bank acquisition, Loans, organizers, Bank Mergers, bank investors, Troubled Banks, De Novo Banks, mergers

FDIC Issues Finalized Policy Statement on Failed Bank Acquisitions

Posted by Wendell Brock on Thu, Sep 03, 2009

In July, the FDIC solicited public comments on a proposed policy statement regarding failed bank acquisitions. This policy statement defined new regulations applicable to certain investors of failed banks, with respect to:   

•    Capital commitments
•    The investor’s role as a source of strength for the acquired institution
•    Cross guarantees
•    Affiliate transactions
•    Secrecy law jurisdictions
•    Continuity of ownership
•    Disclosures


The FDIC received 3190 form letters in support of the policy changes and 61 individual comment letters. A common observation among these comments was that the new requirements would impede the flow of private capital into the banking industry. Specifically, commenters found the 15 percent Tier 1 leverage ratio, the source of strength requirement, and the cross guarantee requirement to be particularly restrictive. Commenters argued that these provisions would competitively disadvantage the banks acquired by private investors. Given this disadvantage, private investors would be more likely to:

•    stay out of banking altogether, or
•    engage in aggressive business activities after the acquisition has closed.

Commenters also noted that private equity fund agreements typically prohibit source of strength and cross guarantee commitments as described by the FDIC’s proposal. The cross guarantee requirement is particularly distasteful because it would require the investor to risk unrelated and legally separate assets.

Provisions that keep private capital out of the banking industry would ultimately impact the DIF negatively, if the result is a greater number of bank failures.

Other commenters, however, supported the increased restrictions on private equity firms, citing the need to keep risky behavior out of the banking system.  

Final provisions

In consideration of the comments, the FDIC affected several changes to the proposed policy statement, including the following hot points:

•    Clarification regarding the firms to which the policy statement applies. The policy statement will not apply to investors in partnership with depository institution holding companies, where the holding company has “a strong majority interest in the acquired bank or thrift and an established record for successful operation of insured banks or thrifts.” Investors holding no more than 5 percent of total voting power are also excluded.
•    Reduction of initial capitalization requirements. The acquired bank must now open with a Tier 1 common equity/total assets ratio of 10 percent. And, this minimum ratio must be maintained for three years.  
•    Removal of the source of strength requirement.
•    Narrowing of the cross guarantee provision. Cross guarantees will only be required when the affected investor group owns more than one institution and those institutions are at least 80 percent owned by common investors.
•    Update to the definition of “affiliate” with respect to affiliate transaction provisions. The final statement defines “affiliate” as: “any company in which the Investor owns, directly or indirectly, at least 10 percent of the equity of such company and has maintained such ownership for at least 30 days.”

Read the summary of comments and complete list of changes made to the final policy statement here:  

Topics: FDIC, bank closing, Bank Opportunities, failed banks, mergers and Aquisistions, bank acquisition

Building Stronger Communities through Bank Acquisitions

Posted by Wendell Brock on Thu, Aug 13, 2009

The decision to acquire a bank in an underserved community is ultimately based on the investment value of the target bank. But determining that investment value is a tricky proposition; a low-income neighborhood may not offer much appeal currently, but infuse that low-income neighborhood with capital, and the situation might look quite different.

Residents of underbanked communities typically have their financial needs fulfilled by payday loan stores, check cashing establishments, and even unlicensed predatory lenders. The expense associated with these services creates inefficiencies in the cycling of cash within the community. In other words, predatory lenders can drain more money out of the community—through high finance and service charges—than they put into it.

A banking institution, however, can have the opposite effect. When a bank reaches out to underbanked consumers and educates them on the advantages of keeping a deposit account, that bank is also compiling assets that will be returned to the community in the form of loans. Those lend-able funds are the building blocks of home ownership and local business development.

Financial education creates financial efficiencies

Studies have repeatedly shown that financial education is a huge component of attracting and retaining underbanked consumers. A bank that operates effectively in a previously underserved community isn’t limited to showing consumers how to reduce their finance charges, however. The bank can also initiate programs to help consumers develop more efficient budgeting, spending, savings and even tax planning habits. Over time, those cumulative household savings can also be directed back into the community, through discretionary spending.

With a creative vision and effective outreach and education programs, then, a newly acquired bank can anchor a turnaround within an underserved community.

Overcoming the failures of previous banks

The challenges in initiating such a turnaround are large, but not insurmountable. If the target bank is already located within the underserved community, the bank organizers need to understand why that institution wasn’t previously effective. The product and service set, the brand image and the marketing programs (to name a few) need to be overhauled to address the needs and wants of local consumers.

If the target bank is to be relocated to the underserved area, the bank organizers must try to gain some insight from the history of banking in that community. Did previous banks or branches fail? If so, why?

Underserved communities and unbanked consumers obviously aren’t the low-hanging fruit of the banking industry. However, initiating real and positive change within a community is an endeavor that can be both rewarding and profitable. And, because there are many underserved locales in the U.S., the group of bank organizers that defines a workable model for one community has ample opportunity to roll out variations of that model to other areas.

Next week, we’ll discuss marketing strategies for attracting and retaining underbanked consumers.

Topics: bank buy out, Bank Opportunities, Community Bank, failed banks, Buy a bank, mergers and Aquisistions, underserved communities, bank acquisition, Bank Buyers, bank aquisition, underserved areas

New Guidance Allows Greater Use of Built-In Lossesin Bank M & A Deals

Posted by Wendell Brock on Wed, Dec 17, 2008

From Hunton and Williams, LLP

The Treasury Department and the IRS have issued favorable guidance under Internal Revenue Code Section 382 for banks engaging in merger and acquisition activities, as well as certain capital raising efforts. Given the current state of the economy, banks engaging in such transactions are likely to hold financial assets that have decreased in value. Traditionally, bank investors’ and acquirers’ use of these unrealized losses after an acquisition would be significantly limited. Under the new guidance, no such limitation would be imposed. This shift is no doubt part of a larger policy initiative to encourage the capitalization and acquisition of troubled banks in the wake of the current financial crisis.

Code Section 382 generally imposes limitations on the use of existing unrealized losses and net operating loss carryforwards against income earned after a corporation has had a change in ownership of 50 percent or more. The policy behind this rule is to prevent the development of a market where taxpayers could buy and sell tax losses. This loss limitation rule effectively prevents one corporation from buying another corporation with significant losses for the primary purpose of using those losses to offset the acquiring corporation’s future taxable income.

Generally, unrealized losses and net operating loss carryforwards can be used after an ownership change only up to the amount of the “Section 382 limitation.” The Section 382 limitation is equal to the fair market value of the corporation on the date of the ownership change multiplied by the long-term tax-exempt rate, which is published each month by the IRS. (4.65 percent in October 2008.) Notice 2008-83, however, provides that for a bank, losses on loans or bad debts that are recognized after an ownership change will not be treated as built-in losses or deductions that are attributable to periods before the change date. Practically speaking, the impact of this new rule is that acquiring banks may be able to fully utilize any unrealized losses held by target banks if the acquisitions are otherwise properly structured.

In addition, the Treasury Department and the IRS have relaxed the presumption of a tax avoidance motive for contributions made within two years of an ownership change. These “anti-stuffing” provisions attempt to disallow the arbitrary inflation of a corporation’s value when capital contributions are made in anticipation of a change in ownership, as increases in value would result in a higher limitation amount under Section 382. Currently, any contribution made within two years of a change in ownership is presumed to be part of a plan for the avoidance of tax
and is subtracted from the value of the corporation for purposes of calculating the Section 382 limitation, thus reducing the amount of losses that can be utilized after the change date. Notice 2008-78 removes this presumption altogether and provides four safe harbors under which contributions will not be deemed to be part of a plan for the avoidance of tax. This notice also makes it clear that failure to fall within one of the safe harbors is not evidence of a plan for tax avoidance. This change in the antistuffing rules is not limited to banks.

© 2008

Topics: IRS, banks, mergers and Aquisistions, tax laws, bank losses, treasury department

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