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City National Corporation (NYSE:CYN)

Q4 2008 Earnings Call

January 22, 2008 5:00 pm ET

Executives

Cary Walker – Senior Vice President, Manager of Corporate Communications

Russell Goldsmith – President, Chief Executive Officer

Christopher Carey – Chief Financial Officer

Analysts

Steve Alexopoulos - J.P. Morgan

Brian Klock - Keefe, Bruyette & Woods

Doug Christopher - Crowell Weeden

David Rochester - Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co.

Lana Chan - BMO Capital Markets

Operator

Good afternoon. I would like to welcome everyone to this discussion of City National Corporation's year end and fourth quarter 2008 financial results. My name is [Julianne] and I will be your coordinator for today. (Operator Instructions)

Now I will turn this call over to Cary Walker, Senior Vice President and Manager of Corporate Communications for City National. Please proceed.

Cary Walker

Thank you. Good afternoon. Here to discuss City National's year end and fourth quarter highlights are Russell Goldsmith, our President and Chief Executive Officer, and Chris Carey, our Chief Financial Officer.

This call will include comments and forward-looking statements based on current plans, expectations, events, and financial industry trends that may affect the company's future operating results and financial position. Such statements involve risks and uncertainties and future activities and results may differ materially from these expectations.

The speakers on this call claim the protection of the safe-harbor provisions contained in the Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. For a more complete discussion of the risks and uncertainties that may cause actual results to differ materially from expected results, see the company's annual report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2007.

This afternoon City National issued a news release outlining its 2008 financial results. To obtain a copy, please visit our website at www.CNB.com.

After comments by management today, we'll open this call to your questions.

And now I'll turn the call over to our CEO, Russell Goldsmith.

Russell Goldsmith

Good afternoon and thank you all for joining us again on this call.

Let me begin by saying that here at City National we are keenly aware of the extraordinary economic conditions that face the United States and the impact that they're having on the financial services industry and vice versa.

However, in some ways City National remains an exception to the kind of headline grabbing issues that are plaguing the financial services industry and getting so much attention. At the same time, however, City National and its clients are keenly aware that we are operating in a very real and enduring recession and are affected by it. We all recognize the economy and the financial markets are in uncharted waters. Everyone on this call knows, as do we, that 2008 was clearly a challenging year for the economy and for business, and we don't expect 2009 to get any easier anytime soon.

Today on the call I'd like to emphasize five things that I think are particularly important about City National's performance in 2008 and what it means for 2009.

First, City National recorded its 16th straight profitable year.

Second, City National strengthened its balance sheet meaningfully.

Third, City National grew its core deposits and loans and client base in 2008.

Fourth, City National demonstrated and is demonstrating its commitment to meaningful cost containment.

Fifth, City National continued in 2008 and will do so in 2009 - very selectively  continued to invest for the future and, as a result, when interest rates and credit costs return to more normal levels, as they ultimately will, City National will again grow its profitability very significantly.

Let me turn to the first point. As you saw in the release, City National just reported 2008 net income available to common shareholders of $102.5 million on revenue of just under $867 million. Fourth quarter net income available to common shareholders amounted to $6.5 million or $0.13 a share, however, if you exclude after-tax charges and a new dividend that we are paying on preferred stock related to the company's participation in the U.S. Treasury's Capital Purchase Program, fourth quarter net income on that basis was $24.5 million or $0.50 a share.

Even though City National's performance for the year and even the quarter is profitable and I believe will turn out to be reasonably good compared to what's going on in the financial services industry, no one here is satisfied with our performance for 2008.

Certainly, City National's profitability was affect significantly by a number of things that reflect the state of the U.S. economy  significantly higher credit costs, an unprecedented 400 basis point decline in short-term interest rates to the current very low levels, several securities impairment charges stemming from continuing turmoil in the financial markets, and increased costs that are rising again in 2009, increased costs related to industrywide FDIC insurance premium increases and, of course, the Treasury's Capital Purchase Program. All of these developments had a significant impact on '08 earnings and will affect '09 earnings.

Given the state of the economy, we believe a strong balance sheet is particularly important right now. Fortunately, City National, through it's 55-year history, has been committed to being well capitalized. This year - meaning 2008 - we added meaningfully to the capital strength of City National Corporation by agreeing to take part in the government's plan to buy preferred stock and warrants in some of the nation's leading financial institutions.

As a result of our performance and that investment, as we start 2009 City National is very well capitalized. At year end, its ratio of shareholder's equity to total assets was 12.4% compared to 10.4% at the same time a year ago. This increase reflects the $400 million investment that we received in November from the U.S. Treasury Department's Capital Purchase Program.

As we said at the time, we chose to take part in the Treasury's program for a number of reasons. First, we believe the additional capital further strengthens our long-term ability to lend.

Second, by protecting the company from much greater than currently anticipated economic deterioration in the economy, this new capital has reinforced not only at City National but I think generally across the financial system the confidence of depositors, a fundamental for our banking system.

Third, we think it's appropriate given the efforts made by the government and the state of the economy to have participated and to continue to participate in the government's broader effort to revive the economy by promoting stability, capital strength and sound lending activities. As a result, as I say, so our balance sheet - the second point I wanted to emphasize - is in very good shape.

Third, let me talk about our loans and deposits. At the end of 2008 I'm pleased to tell you that City National's loan balances had increased to a record high level of $12.4 billion, which is up 7% from the previous year. In the fourth quarter alone, City National renewed approximately $1 billion of loans and made more than $340 million of new loans to a broad variety of consumers, homeowners, entrepreneurs, and small to midsized businesses. We believe we did this at the same time without compromising our strong credit standards.

One reason that City National has the strength that it does today and continues to be able to not only serve its existing clients but expand its reach to attract new creditworthy clients is that City National has no subprime loans and has very few of the other significant credit problems that have damaged or constrained so many other financial institutions. We continue to uphold our strong underwriting policies and we continue to make good loans to sound borrowers.

So that brings me to credit quality. Chargeoffs and non-accruals were obviously up in the fourth quarter, but nonetheless we maintained quite strong reserves.

Loans to the home builder segment that have created issues for us through the year continue to account for most of the stress in our loan portfolio, but the loans in total in that segment now account for less than 4% of City National's total loans.

The C&I portfolio is showing some signs of stress as the economy's deterioration continues, but that's not unexpected. However, in the nonperforming segment, the issues are largely related to the continuing challenges in the real estate development and construction industries. Fortunately, we have absorbed not all of the pain but most or much of the pain from this segment in 2008.

All in all, City National remains well reserved. As you can see in the release, we recorded a $40 million provision in the fourth quarter, which brings our total for the year of loan loss provision to $127 million. Not only have we absorbed chargeoffs but we've grown our loan loss reserve to $224 million, which is a very strong 180 basis points of total loans, and that does not include an additional $23 million that we have in reserve for off balance sheet commitments.

Not every bank obviously has reported its numbers yet, but we believe our reserve ratio will again be significantly higher than the industry average, as it was at the end of the third quarter. And again, we don't have any subprime mortgages. We don't have brokered mortgages. We don't have any concerns about credit card debt or auto loans or the kind of retail consumer loans that larger retail banks have to deal with as well as smaller retail banks.

So as we look to 2009, we think the strength of City National's loan loss reserve is an additional advantage that should help us to remain profitable in this challenging 2009 economy.

Another thing that distinguishes City National this year as it has for so many years is our very strong deposit base. City National's core deposits in particular represent a remarkable almost 90% of all of our deposit balances. In fact, last year average core deposits grew 2%, but at year end we had added a net total of $829 million in deposits, almost $700 million of which were core deposits. We think this reflects the recognition in our markets that City National is a very safe and sound institution. We've done a number of things to enhance that and, as a result, we're seeing new clients as well as new funds from current relationships come to City National Bank.

Part of those efforts includes City National's participation in the FDIC's Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program as well as the U.S. Treasury's Temporary Money Market Fund Guarantee Program. Both of these initiatives have given our clients expanded insurance protection for their funds, and while we didn't think they needed it, we thought it was appropriate in this time and we were willing to bear the cost for these programs in order to give our clients the strongest level of assurance and protection for their deposits and investment dollars.

Despite the growth of loans and deposits, net interest income did fall slightly in 2008 due to the unprecedented drop and the low levels of interest rates. The company's prime lending rate ended the year 400 basis points lower than when the year began.

The fourth point I wanted to emphasize is cost containment. In light of the challenging operating environment, City National is focusing aggressively on expense management. Chris Carey will give you some greater detail in a few minutes but, as I think those of you who have followed City National for a long time know, City National is a pay-for-performance organization, and that manifests itself in an environment like this where our earnings are less than we had hoped and anticipated. As a result, our most senior executives, pursuant to the structures of our payforperformance plans, our most senior executives will revenue no bonus - like Chris and I and the President of the bank - or they will receive meaningfully reduced bonuses. No one at City National will receive a salary increase in 2009 except for people who are promoted.

Excluding FDIC-mandated increases across the industry, our expenses for 2009 will be about flat with 2008, even as we absorb some higher third-party costs, like benefits. When all is said and done, we're confident that today's economic conditions are temporary and that the fundamental earnings power of City National will become more apparent once again when the economy improves and we see interest rates and credit costs reach more normal levels.

The fifth and final point I was going to make was about the investments and initiatives that we have made and continue to make in '08 and '09. While we're hoping for a better economy in 2009, we are not planning on that happening. We are planning for another year of significant recession. But that doesn't mean that we're idly waiting for the next economic turnaround. There is a great deal that we have been doing and are doing and will do to make the most of 2009 and prepare for a brighter future for City National. Let me just mention a few of the investments we made in 2008:

We made a commitment to strengthen our Personal Trust business, which we think is appropriate and a meaningful opportunity for City National, and named a new head of that area, Mike Dowling.

We are very focused on deposits and brought in a very experienced leader of our newly formed Treasury Services division, Jim Daley.

We've also recruited a number of talented bankers to our organization and added a number of skilled investment professionals to our affiliate, Convergent Wealth Advisors, who also opened an office here in Los Angeles.

We continue to innovate in the product area, introducing new products in cash management and in our relatively new credit card program, and we introduced something we call Green Checking as a part of our expanding Green Ladder Program for clients who like to make a more positive contribution to the environment by doing all of their banking electronically.

We even opened a new branch of our bank in Manhattan Beach, California, which brings our total of banking offices in California, Nevada and New York to 62, and we will open a second office in downtown San Francisco in the second quarter of '09. Obviously, the pace of expansion is relatively modest and contained, but we think these are useful and important steps building for the future.

Unlike some of our competitors, as we enter 2009 City National does not have to concern itself with surprises from any large bank or thrift acquisitions which might distract us or hurt us in this challenging economic environment.

In 2009, in spite of those challenging economic conditions, which we anticipate seeing deteriorate further, we expect City National will have a profitable year in 2009. Our balance sheet, as I said, is strong, our deposit base is strong, our clients are growing with City National, and we have the best team of bankers and colleagues than we've ever had in our 55-year history. That team is paying a great deal of attention, as it has been for quite some time now, to credit quality, cost control, and staying closely in touch with our clients and working with them to help them through this challenging economy.

As a result of all this and more, we're confident about City National and its long-term prospects, even while we recognize the very real challenges that face City National, the financial services industry, and the United States in 2009. Ultimately, though, the states we are operating in remain some of the best markets in the world, and we're very focused even now upon very selectively taking advantage of the many attractive growth opportunities that exist now or will exist for us in the future. As I said, I think in any kind of more normalized environment, the strong earnings power of our franchise will become quite evident once again.

Now let me turn to our Chief Financial Officer, Chris Carey, to give you some greater detail about our fourth quarter performance and our outlook for 2009.

Chris?

Christopher Carey

Thank you, Russell, and good afternoon, all.

Before we take your questions, I'd like to briefly talk about the fourth quarter results and our outlook for 2009, and in doing so I'll follow up partly on several of the points that Russell made.

Regarding the fourth quarter, it was clearly a difficult environment for all banks. Here are a few of the notable items:

Revenue was $204 million, up slightly from the third quarter of 2008.

Average loans reached $12.4 billion, up 1% from the third quarter.

Total loans in the fourth quarter increased an annualized rate of just over 5%, so they're still growing but at a slower rate, one that reflects the weakening economy.

Frankly, a real bright spot for us was average core deposits, which grew significantly from the third quarter. They were up in spite of lower title and escrow balances, which reflect the continuing decline of residential and commercial real estate activity.

The company's net interest margin, 4.09% in the fourth quarter of 2008 was down 14 basis points from the previous quarter solely due to interest rates, which hit an historic low. We'd actually been doing very well in the margin the entire year, but the 175 basis point decline was too much to overcome in the prime rate.

Non-interest income totaled $55.6 million, down 32% from the same period in 2007, but up 11% from the third quarter of 2008. Unfortunately, we had a total of $19 million of securities impairment charges in the quarter. Approximately $11 million related to a discrete portfolio of bank trust preferred pooled securities and $8 million came from our equity securities portfolio. We think the worst of these impairment charges are behind us now. The company now holds $11.7 million of the bank pooled securities and $39.7 million of equity securities. Together they represent on 2% of our total securities portfolio.

Now turning to credit quality, I'd like to add just a few words to what Russell has already said our credit quality. The increase in non-accruals during the quarter reflect continuing stress in the residential construction industry as well as several C&I loans that are tied to housing, real estate development and finance. We have been saying for quite some time that we expect to see stress in the C&I portfolio as the economy weakens. In our view, non-accruals are likely to rise, at least in the first half of this year, but we also expect losses to remain manageable.

Looking at expenses, City National continued to invest for the future last year, but we went about it in a disciplined way. Excluding a contract intangible asset impairment and higher FDIC costs, our expenses grew about 2% from the fourth quarter of 2007.

Now just a few comment really on the outlook. As you can see from our earnings release, we've gotten away from providing specific EPS guidance. That's because the high level of economic uncertainty and market volatility that exists today make it virtually impossible to do so with any confidence.

So overall, in conclusion City National remains well capitalized, well reserved and profitable. The company has significant liquidity and is well positioned to weather current economic conditions and return to much higher profitability once conditions improve and interest rates move to higher and more normal levels.

I really do want to emphasize that the key factors we have discussed today during the earnings call, things that have been negatively affecting City National's earnings, are temporary. When the economy improves, credit costs will move much lower, interest rates will rise and alleviate the pressure on our margin, equity values will begin to recover their value and that will give our wealth management business a real boost. Looking ahead beyond 2009, we are confident in our business and our strong growth prospects.

With that said, we'd be happy to take your questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Thank you. (Operator Instructions) Your first question comes from Steve Alexopoulos - J.P. Morgan.

Steve Alexopoulos - J.P. Morgan

Are you setting the dividend to a new level that you expect to be able to pay it out of earnings here in 2009?

Russell Goldsmith

We traditionally set the dividend based upon the prior year's earnings. But at the same time, we do believe we can pay the dividend that we're announcing today out of earnings that are earned in 2009.

Steve Alexopoulos - J.P. Morgan

Also, your prepared comments seem to be a little bit more on the bearer side than I think we've heard in awhile, and when I look at the reserve build, it doesn't seem to fully reflect that level of bearishness. And if we look at some of the credit metrics, you know, a lower base but net chargeoffs doubling quarter to quarter, NPAs up 50% or so, around there, we don't see that big of an increase in the reserve. Could you balance that out, particularly with your view on the economy?

Russell Goldsmith

Well, you know, at one point 8% to total loans, plus the $23 million I mentioned for off balance sheet commitments, we think that the reserve is very strong and compares very, very favorably to industry standards. And even after chargeoffs in the quarter, you're seeing a net build in the reserve.

We have a pretty sophisticated, time-tested model for building our reserves and believe that by going to - as you saw, by making the provision somewhat higher in the fourth quarter and obviously we anticipate meaningful provisions in '09, that we're well reserved.

Steve Alexopoulos - J.P. Morgan

Finally, for Chris, when you look at the [inaudible] model, does the fourth quarter capture the full impact of falling rates in terms of impact on the margin or should pressure continue into the fourth quarter?

Christopher Carey

I think you should anticipate pressure will continue into the first quarter. I think it captures a lot of it. But I think it also - the low rate levels also impact our wealth management business and some of the money market funds.

Operator

Your next question comes from Brian Klock - Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.

Brian Klock - Keefe, Bruyette & Woods

I guess maybe you can add a little bit more color - and I jumped on late, so I apologize if you did this in the prepared comments - it looked like demand deposit growth was very strong. Can you give us a little idea what you're seeing there and any geography color on where you're getting that strong deposit growth?

Russell Goldsmith

I think you're right that we are seeing very solid deposit growth. I think it reflects growth pretty much across the franchise in California and New York especially. You're seeing, I think, several things happening - which you may have missed in the prepared comments; I'll say it quickly - which is I think our existing client base, which is - we have, you know, very, very high retention levels.

You're seeing clients turning to City National, I believe rightfully so, as a strong and safe place to put their deposits and some of the fixed income and other investment dollars, so we're gathering greater share of wallet from existing clients. We're also attracting new clients, in part because of our outreach efforts to bring in new clients and as we selectively add some new bankers in our organization, they've also brought in new business.

So I think it's a reflection of the strength and stability of City National. We also put in the unlimited FDIC insurance for certain types of demand accounts and I think that's also helped.

Brian Klock - Keefe, Bruyette & Woods

And I did hear, Chris, you talk about some of the impairment charges that you took, and you did mention the FDIC insurance premiums that increased versus the linked quarter. Is there any sort of incremental expenses we can expect in '09 or would that FDIC premium be somewhat, starting first quarter '09, similar to what you saw in the fourth quarter?

Christopher Carey

No, it goes up next year rather substantially. The fourth quarter we had a little more FDIC because of new programs we entered partway through the quarter, but the rate goes up substantially again next year.

Russell Goldsmith

For the whole industry.

Christopher Carey

For the whole industry.

Brian Klock - Keefe, Bruyette & Woods

Right. I guess what kind of incremental piece can we see?

Christopher Carey

Well, I mean, I'll just give you our rough estimate on this one because it's so significant. I think roughly we think that the cost of the FDIC for our bank is around $15 million incrementally next year, which is a pretty big number.

Brian Klock - Keefe, Bruyette & Woods

Right, right. I know obviously it's difficult to try to give guidance with this macro economy and the negative factors that are out there. What should we think about from provision levels or is there any guidance you can give us on what you're expecting provision levels to be, '09 versus '08?

Russell Goldsmith

Well, I think what we've said that we think they will be somewhat higher, and I think Chris and I are comfortable suggesting that from the $127 we provided for in '08.

Brian Klock - Keefe, Bruyette & Woods

And then last question. Chris, I'm not sure if you mentioned this at all, but within the other comprehensive income was there anything in there - I would have expected to see some maybe positive movement on the securities mark. Any one-timers in there or anything that you've got, pension-related adjustments or anything like that that we should -

Christopher Carey

No, there's nothing like that.

Operator

Your next question comes from Doug Christopher - Crowell Weeden.

Doug Christopher - Crowell Weeden

A lot of questions but I guess most focused, you're running a great business and doing a great job in positioning yourself to move out when the economy improves to improve results. I think that what I'm looking at in some of the actions you've taken is what type of a disadvantage now or does the $400 million in TARP funds, does that really give government a majority kind of interest in what happens to those earnings and dividends in the future? Can you comment on that?

Russell Goldsmith

I think there's a lot of confusion in the country today around the TARP investment dollars. I think as banks start to report, people will begin to better recognize that this is an investment by the United States government in now I believe over 200 banks. For us in 2009, it will cost us about $21.5 million after tax - after tax. So the government gets our taxes and then we pay them to have this preferred stock.

But in terms of if you're getting at - you used the word majority - they don't have any votes; they're not common shareholders. There were obviously some limitations and restrictions that the Treasury has publicly stated, but I think the biggest impact visible to shareholders is - and you started to see that in the fourth quarter - is the impact on net income as we pay the dividend to the United States government in advance of having net income reportable to the shareholders.

Operator

Your next question comes from David Rochester - Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co.

David Rochester - Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co.

What portion of the C&I chargeoffs actually came from the real estate development industry and what is the total size of that portfolio now?

Russell Goldsmith

Well, in the broader industry I think it's in the $300 million range, I believe. And in terms of the chargeoffs during the quarter that came from that industry, pure real estate it's probably a little less than half of that now. So we are starting to see some regular old C&I chargeoffs as we said we would. We had a couple in some service businesses. So it's starting to - you know, we had some in the real estate related, but we're clearly starting to see some C&I chargeoffs as you'd expect in this kind of economy.

David Rochester - Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co.

Okay, so business services and is it pretty well scattered across the segments that you've disclosed previously or are you seeing most of the rest of those chargeoffs in primarily business services at this point.

Russell Goldsmith

I guess I'd make the point where we're not seeing it, so we're not seeing any significant chargeoffs in professional services, we're not seeing any significant chargeoffs in our entertainment business, and we're not seeing any chargeoffs in our $3 plus billion mortgage portfolio for our clients, so there's a lot of areas that are holding up relatively well.

And just, I got an update. The number's probably more in the $600 million range in terms of real estate services out of that $4 billion portfolio.

David Rochester - Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co.

And then you had mentioned the commercial construction weakness. Are there any specific areas there? Is that primarily retail or are you seeing some issues in office and industrial.

Russell Goldsmith

Well, we have seen a little in office, but it's still the preponderance relates to residential.

And I would just point out again, in our commercial real estate portfolio, some of the headline-grabbing areas that people are understandably concerned about, like hotels and big shopping malls, that doesn't really manifest itself in our portfolios.

David Rochester - Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co.

And just one last one. Just looking at the deposit costs, it looks like for some of the core categories that they moved a little higher. Are you continuing to see that strong deposit competition in January or are you expecting the rates to subside a little bit?

Russell Goldsmith

We expect the rates to subside.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Your next question comes from Lana Chan - BMO Capital Markets.

Lana Chan - BMO Capital Markets

Could you give us an idea of how much you've written down the construction nonperforming assets by now?

Russell Goldsmith

You know, I don't have a percentage. It really varies by product type. I mean, I'd just say the idea is that it's written - once anything hits NPA, it's written down to net realizable value, which means what we think the value is based on comps less sale price. But it's a little bit across the board, so I don't have a particular percentage for the whole amount. I don't know if it would really be that helpful anyway.

Lana Chan - BMO Capital Markets

And of the increase in construction nonperformers this quarter, how much of that came from residential versus commercial?

Russell Goldsmith

It's almost all - most of it is residential.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) At this time there are no further questions in the audio queue, so I would like to turn the call back over to Mr. Goldsmith.

Russell Goldsmith

Thank you, Operator, and I want to thank everyone who participated in the call or who is tuning in later through our website for taking the time to understand City National and its performance. We appreciate your continuing interest and look forward to talking with you again at the end of the first quarter of 2009. Obviously, Chris Carey and I are willing to take any questions that may occur to you later on. Thank you, again.

Operator

Thank you for your participation in today's conference. This concludes the presentation. You may now disconnect.

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