Zions Bancorp's Management Presents at Citigroup US Financial Services Conference (Transcript)

Mar. 5.13 | About: Zions Bancorporation (ZION)

Zions Bancorporation (NASDAQ:ZION)

Citigroup US Financial Services Conference

March 05, 2013 2:00 pm ET

Executives

Doyle L. Arnold - Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer

James R. Abbott - Senior Vice President of Investor Relations & External Communications

Doyle L. Arnold

Thank you. Interesting and complicated. That's us. That about sums it up. Were there any questions?

I'm happy to be here today. Thanks for your interest in Zions, those of you who may be listening in, as well as those of you in the audience. I thought I'd do something a little different today. I thought I'd just -- I would extemporize on the interesting but complicated rift that was just delivered. There are -- and kind of characterize all of it as what makes Zions rather unique at this particular point in time.

You are -- I think, you're all -- first of all, wait a minute. The general counsel wants me -- would want me to do this. Enter into the record, the forward-looking statement slide, and then we'll move on. I mean, you're all familiar with the structural things that makes Zions unique and hopefully, interesting, but it does make it a little more complicated, and that's the multibank holding company structure that we operate out in the western United States. I think most of the faces that I see in the room are familiar, so I'm not going to elaborate on why we do that. You probably heard that before, but I'll answer questions later.

What I do want to spend a little more time on is what makes us unique in terms of the capital structure, how we got there and what opportunity that presents to us, what makes us unique in the way the balance sheet is positioned and the opportunity that presents to us and the implications for those things, in combination, for the financial outlook. And rather than flip through slides initially, I'm just going to talk about those things.

If you recall -- the first topic will be the capital structure. If you recall, back during the recent crisis, Zions perhaps did not issue proportionately as much common stock, nor did it issue it as early as many of our peers did. If you recall, most of the larger banks issued a great deal of common stock in kind of the May 2009 timeframe, maybe April. Right after -- they were then called SCAP banks, right after they passed their stress test. And later, we and others began to issue some common, but certainly not in the copious qualities that they did then, and we did not really issue our largest single amount of common until first and second quarter of 2010.

We did that consciously. We were trying to minimize the share count dilution to the shareholders that was kind of built into issuing a lot of common at the very bottom of the market. And if you remember, the very bottom of the market was kind of in the March, April timeframe. We instead tried to do as much as we could in the way of raising capital and raising financing through the crisis through other means. Those means had their own expense. But we tried to build into those issuances ways to unwind them when the crisis was over.

So for example, as you know, we issued -- we modified sub debt in -- I believe, it was June of 2009, to add a conversion feature, and which allowed us to mark that debt-to-market -- I may be off by a year there. Was it '09 or '10? It was '09. And in effect, without issuing a single share, create $0.5 billion of round numbers of common equity. We issued, in September of 2009, some very expensive subordinated debt -- or senior debt, excuse me, at a 7.75% coupon, but an effective cost of 11% because it was issued at a discount.

We did that for liquidity purposes. We were the first non-investment-grade bank at the time to go back and reenter the senior unsecured debt market. We modified that sub debt such that it could convert into preferred as we began to come out of the crisis. A lot of it did convert into preferred, and mostly, it converted into Series C preferred, which had a 9.5% coupon. So we now have $800 million of very expensive preferred stock on the balance sheet.

But with each of those actions, we tried to build in maturity or call features that would get us through the crisis and then give us the opportunity to address and unwind those things as we got through it. We're now in that period. So our approach to capital planning and debt planning at the moment is probably different than in many of the other banks that issued a lot of common at the bottom of the market and are now focusing on trying to buy back in those shares, but unfortunately for them, in many cases, at double or triple the price at which they issued it back in 2009.

We, on the other hand, will be -- have an opportunity to call preferred stock that has a cost of 9.5%, replace it with preferred stock that probably costs more in the range of 6%. We have an opportunity to tender for or wait for the maturity of senior debt that has an 11% cost and replace it with term senior debt that probably starts with a 4% today. We have opportunity to tender for or wait for the maturity of 3 different issues of subordinated debt that, some of which costs us close to 20%, and replace -- that's the modified debt, and that's not just the coupon, but that's the discount amortization that comes back through income. Anyway, we can today issue term subordinated debt with between 5% and 6%, so a great deal of opportunity that we're looking at over the next 18 to 30 months, roughly speaking.

And that is the focus of our capital plan. If rates stay -- if the yield curve stays relatively low and flat for that time period, we should be able to address each of those actions in a way that will take the return on equity of the company, with its current common equity base, from about 6% up into the 9% to 9-plus percent range, if nothing fundamental changes with the operating earnings of the company. That is just reducing the drag from those expensive actions. Now that's with no share buybacks, no nothing else.

The second thing that makes us unique is the asset sensitivity of the company. We have probably the largest pile of cash proportionately on our balance sheet and the largest kind of floating rate loan mix proportionately on our balance sheet so that our asset duration is very short. In fact, as near as we can tell, we're probably the, or 1 of the 2 or 3, most asset-sensitive regional banks and larger in the country. What that means is, of course, if rates go up, we win and we should have, particularly in the early days of any Fed tightening or rate increase, a significant margin expansion built in there. If the rate increases because the economy has picked up, we will probably also be seeing loan growth at that time, because that's usually what happens when the economy picks up, and the economy picking up is what would give the Fed the reason to tighten, which means then that we would not only have margin expansion, but we would have loan growth on top of that, converting some of that pile of cash into higher-earning assets.

So you kind of play out various scenarios and think about the possibilities. If -- the Fed has basically telegraphed with QE Infinity, if you will, that it expects to keep rates -- the rate environment low and flat for -- through the next 2 years and perhaps into 2015. If it does, during that timeframe, we will be able to address all of those lower right-hand portion of our balance sheet issues with non-common Tier 1 capital, Tier 2 capital and unsecured senior debt in a way that significantly lowers its cost. If the Fed loses control earlier or the economy rebounds earlier, we may not get all of that done at the rates we could get it done today, but we will benefit from the loan growth or the asset sensitivity. Asset sensitivity if we're stagflation, both loan growth and asset sensitivity if we're in a more quickly recovering economy in the next year or 2 than people currently envision. In the best of all possible worlds, we get it all.

For the next couple of years, we address the lower right-hand portion of the balance sheet, and beyond that, we pick up -- we get the loan growth and the asset sensitivity, so we get the lift out of all of -- out of the recovering economy afterwards. I don't think there's any other bank of size that I'm aware of that has those -- that combination of levers to pull. Of course, if the economy does go back off and weaken significantly, we will be struggling like everybody else. We're not unique in that regard. But at a time when others might be trying to figure out how to unwind their mortgage-backed securities portfolio, we won't. Our securities portfolio at that -- in the recovering environment will actually be adding incrementally to capital, if not earnings, because the CDO portfolio would be recovering in that same scenario.

So we've actually added, which I'll get to later, one last slide to our usual guidance slide, which lays out those scenarios. The lower right-hand side of the balance sheet allows us to add several percentage points to return on equity from the restructuring and reduced cost of non-common capital and financing. The asset sensitivity in the CDO portfolio give us additional potential upside in any kind of a recovering economy.

So with that brief overview, let's just document a few of those things. Credit -- so credit quality and capital levels continue to be strong. The allowance is quite strong. You can see on the top slide here, our -- particularly with the net recoveries that we had last quarter, our loan loss reserve now, if we kept up that pace, would cover 13 years of net charge-offs. That's kind of outrageous and won't continue. I mean, we don't quite think net charge-offs will be that low, but nonetheless, we've got one of the strongest loan loss reserves. There's no need to build that reserve in anything like today's environment.

We've accomplished a bit with the lower right-hand part of the balance sheet already. We telegraphed last February that, in our hosted Analyst Day, that Job 1 for 2012 was going to be to try to repay TARP without issuing common on the way out. We accomplished that. We also did one thing we hadn't planned on, which was reduce the cost of some of our preferred by calling 1 series and issuing -- it did cost 11%, and issuing a 7.9% in replacement. This year's capital plan, which is, of course, still under review, is consistent with everything we've been saying to you since February a year ago, which is we're going to be focused not so much on massively returning capital to common shareholders. Because, again, we didn't dilute them as badly in the first place, we're going to be focused primarily on restructuring and lowering the cost of our non-common capital and financing.

Here's the volume of the stuff that is addressable over the next several years. We have trust preferred in the purple on the left that is callable at any time. Economically, just under $300 million of it is expensive enough to be worth calling. That's the Series B that has -- cost 8%. The rest of that bar is very cheap stuff, including the Series A preferred, which is LIBOR plus 52, with a floor of 4%. It's probably a safe bet that, within my lifetime, that level issue will never be called. We've got Series C preferred at just about $800 million. That's callable in September. That's 9.5%. As I said, we could do something more on the order -- we just a issued some preferred at 6.3%, and that issue is now selling at a very significant premium, I think about $26.30 on a par of $25. So they're probably more in the high-5s to 6 today. And a large issue of that 11% senior debt in September of '09 is -- matures in September of '14. Clearly, we could do senior debt at half that price or perhaps even a bit better today -- well, certainly better than half -- probably more like 40% of the rate, something in the mid-4s perhaps, instead of 11%.

So there's a lot of stuff to be addressed. We don't plan to replace like-for-like exactly. We've kind of laid out the -- here's the volume part of the chart, how much capital did we use to have, how much do we have today and where do we think, given the new regulatory and stress test environment, et cetera, do we think we need. Again, the focus is not going to be in the very near term on reducing CET1, but on reducing a bit the aggregate amount of everything else, but very significantly lowering the cost of everything else. And if you do that and applied today's rates to the replacement, you get the ROE pickup that's indicated on the right over there.

The -- so how are we doing on time here? Profitability, we actually -- I said if everything -- when I talked about the next 2 years, I said, sort of everything else staying stable. Everything else staying stable means that 2 things have to move in a way that somewhat offset each other. We do have, and I've clearly articulated, a couple of known pressures on our margin arising from the loan portfolio and in particular, from rate resets on 5-year loans that were made just before the music stopped in 2008. We had a large volume of those in the latter half of '06 all through '07 and the first half of 2008.

5 years later, we're now the first half of 2013, those loans are -- given how far rates have come down, are resetting today, when they hit that reset mark, at a 1 point to 1.5 points lower than when they were issued. That is a known drag on the margin that we articulated for you, last year was knocking about 4 to 5 basis points per quarter off the margin. And we've got this quarter and next to get through with that. And then, by that time, economic activity began to collapse and the volume -- new volume has dropped off markedly back in 2008. So the volume of those resetting loans just goes way down and the margin pressure, therefore, way down.

Second was loans that had floors that were deeply in the money, those floors have been coming off, and you can't replace them today with anything like that. We've already gotten through much more of that. There's still a little bit of pressure from that, but it takes -- to offset those 2 sources, last year, took $400 million to $500 million a quarter of new loan production. We didn't get that. It was more like $200 million or $300 million, average, over the course of the year. This year, in the first half, and probably for the year as a whole, it only takes $200 million to $300 million a quarter to fully offset that margin pressure and sort of keep net interest income stable. So it looks far more feasible to continue, on average, to get $200 million to $300 million a quarter, and therefore, I think my "all else being equal" comment has a far better chance of actually being valid this year than last year.

We -- just to give you the updated data. We had a bit over -- we had something over $400 million of net loan growth in the fourth quarter, close to what we had a year ago in the fourth quarter of over $500 million. Remember what happened though in the first quarter of 2012, all of that ran off and we were down $500 million in the first quarter. This year, as of last Friday, we're down less than $100 million from year end. So we were actually down about $200 million at the end of January, and it's come back a bit so that we're down less than $100 million point-to-point, and on average, we're up over $200 million on average loans, first quarter compared to fourth. So we're kind of on track. We've got a pretty decent pipeline of unfunded commitments. There's a lot of information in the slide in there. I'm not going to go through it. But as those commitment funds -- the commitments fund, there's a likelihood that they will continue to support earnings, loan balance growth, at a modest level.

We get asked about loan pricing. Yes, there's pressure out there, but it's been fairly stable for over the last year to 18 months or so. Cash is a big drag on the margin. I talked to, nearly 70 basis points, assuming that all of that cash were converted into loans. That's not going to happen exactly. But it gives you an idea of how big the drag is. I'm not going to talk about -- I mean, the other thing is we've -- kind of leading into the asset sensitivity, we -- and documenting it. We have not -- the key thing is we've not deployed that cash into long-dated securities. In particular, we have not deployed it into securities that have negative convexity risk associated with them.

We've got the smallest mortgage-backed securities book in the industry. We do plan to keep it that way. You can see the duration of our loan portfolio is pretty short because most of it is tied to prime or LIBOR. There are some 5-year resets and a small amount of stuff that's out at 10 to 12 years, but the bulk of it's fairly short so the duration is 1.4 years. Even the securities portfolio is only 1.8 years. So we've not -- we know we're sacrificing current earnings today by not reaching for yield in the securities book through duration extension. And because of the way the scenarios play out, that I articulated at the beginning, we don't plan to change this in any material way. As a result, the interest sensitivity -- or asset sensitivity to the interest rates is quite high.

I'm going to -- this is a measure of just how big the opportunity is to address earnings through addressing capital and refinancing. On the right-hand side of this slide, you've got -- you have depicted the sum of the parts. These are the earnings that our banks are reporting, stacked one on top of each other. The left-hand chart is the earnings of the consolidated entity and with -- as reported and adjusted for any reserve release. As you can see, there is a huge gap between those 2 numbers. The primary reason for that gap is that we have not shoved down to the banks the very high cost -- the extraordinarily high cost of the capital and debt actions that we took at the holding company through the crisis. And so as we unwind those actions, the bars on the left are going to rise closer to the size of the bars on the right-hand side of the page.

So you put all that together, where do we think we are? Loan balances, we're a little more constructive, I believe, is the investment banking word -- than we were a year ago, in that we have not seen the big reversal of the year-end run-up so far this quarter that we did last year, and pipelines generally remain pretty good. Very strong in Texas, very weak in Nevada, and everything is at various stages in between those 2 states.

Core net interest income is probably going to be -- there's probably still a little bit of net pressure on it this quarter. But as we go through the year, it should be stabilizing to perhaps even recovering a bit as, again, the margin pressures abate and if we continue to have a few hundred million of average net loan growth as we go through the year. Credit quality remains very -- is very good compared to where it was a year or 2 years ago and is continuing to improve, albeit at a much slower rate. But net impact of that, plus the very high reserve levels, means that the provision is likely to remain quite low, kind of in the neighborhood of 0 for at least several more quarters.

Non -- so core noninterest income then stable to moderately higher. Noninterest expense, the basic picture there is we expect non-provision credit-related costs, things like OREO and legal expenses and FDIC assessments, et cetera, to continue to decline at a rate that will roughly offset normal salary increases and things like that. So as we've been able to do for several years now, net operating expenses ought to remain fairly flat for the next year.

Preferred dividends, for those who are trying to build very precise models, calling the Series C in September will have a significant reduction in dividends, but we can't call without issuing some replacement. We basically set $500 million to $600 million of replacement preferred, which will be at a cheaper rate, but we have to issue that before we can call the Series C. So there'll be, incrementally, an increase in preferred dividends in the first and second quarters of this year and even third quarter, before we can get rid of the Series C late in the third quarter. And then in the -- so that by the fourth quarter, you'll see the full net impact, which will be down.

And finally, then putting it all together, net income to common should be, on a general trend, increasing. And then, the new slide that we've added to the deck is a very concise articulation of where I started, which is we have an opportunity on the lower right-hand side of the balance sheet. We have an opportunity from our asset sensitivity. We should get at least one or the other of those, and we may get the benefit of both of those.

And that's kind of the Zions story at the moment. Happy to take questions.

Unknown Analyst

Thank you very much, Doyle. I'll just start off the Q&A, and we can open it up.

Question-and-Answer Session

Unknown Analyst

Just firstly, if you think about the cash requirements on the senior debt that's, I think, due in 2014, can you talk about the opportunities there as that debt is matured and maybe even quantify it as much as you can, in terms of putting that cash that's required to you -- the cash that you need to hold at the holding company?

Doyle L. Arnold

Well, it's an interesting question. We, like, I think, most bank holding companies today, are targeting very carefully a measure which is called "time to required funding." Simply stated, "If the music stopped and you couldn't roll over any debt or access any form of financing and you had to continue to meet all your required obligations, how long could you go before you were sucking fumes on the cash?" And for us, and I think we're fairly typical, we said we want to try to stay at kind of 18 to 24 months. What that means is that -- take that senior debt of $500 million that we have to pay off in September of '14, it means you have to back up 1.5 years from that and you're in March of '13, you've got to issue $500 million of new debt to replace it, so just when we're sitting on a pile of cash, if that were the only variable we were looking at, you'd actually have to carry an extra $0.5 billion of cash for 18 months in order to meet that time to required funding. So -- and we have a couple of very large -- if I can go back and find it, it's quite a ways back. Let's see how long it will take me to page back through all this. Okay, here we go. Slide 12, if you've got -- if you're trying to follow along. We've got that $500 million. We've got $100 million of sub debt maturing in the middle of next year. We've got $0.5 billion of sub debt maturing in '15 and so forth. So you've got to issue stuff well in advance. What that means is that we will -- where the market economics are favorable, in the near term, we would likely be tempted to tender for some of that debt so that we could just retire it early and not have to carry that extra load. I'm not optimistic that we could retire anywhere near all of it, probably somewhat less, rather less than half of it through tenders. But that is something that we'll be trying -- probably trying to look at and track closely. If the premium is too high, we wouldn't do it. If it's low enough that you can recover that cost within a reasonable timeframe, then we would probably take a serious look at it. The other thing we'll be trying to do, because of that -- the criticality of that measure these days, is that any new debt issuance -- we'll be trying to do a couple of things. One is spread out the maturities much more evenly than we had -- have at the present. And if you look at my other slide, which is the -- let's see if I can find it here. I went too far. The target -- anyway, the one that has the target capital structure and financing structure. If you multiply those percentages times assets, you get to about, order of magnitude, $2 billion of debt for this company on an ongoing basis, sub and senior. And if you spread all of that out between sort of 5 and 10 years at new issuance, kind of an average new issuance of about 7 years, say, then you're looking at $250 million, $300 million on average of debt that you would want to have maturing each year, and we've got a couple of instances where we got a lot more than that. We got $0.5 billion, $600 million maturing in the year. So we'll be trying to spread out the maturities. Second is, ideally, you would like to issue something that the market has not seen much of and that we've been trying to experiment with, and that's make the debt callable. When it gets inside of 18 months, ideally, we could call it, not just tender for it, call it at par and reissue new debt out at 5 to 7 to 10 years maturity. Then you're not having to carry that extra load of cash for all that time just to pre-fund the maturing debt. I don't know if I -- it's a long answer, and I don't know if I actually addressed your specific question. If I didn't, I'm going to give you a shot at a follow-up to that.

Unknown Analyst

That's good. That's very helpful.

Doyle L. Arnold

Okay. Other questions?

Unknown Analyst

You mentioned the cash balances and asset sensitivity. If we get a rise in rates without a lot of economic activity, how do you think about where you would deploy those cash balances to get a better return?

Doyle L. Arnold

If we get rising rates and still a sluggish economy, sort of a stagflation or -- is that the scenario?

Unknown Analyst

Yes, if there's a -- right, yes. There's pullback in QE and presumption is that the curve starts to steepen and potentially get a rise in the short end, where would you put the cash balances?

Doyle L. Arnold

Yes. I think in that case, we probably wouldn't have an opportunity to deploy too much of it in loan growth. We would certainly get the great -- the lift from the repricing of our current loan portfolio. But I do think in that environment, we would begin to see some of that cash, either -- well, probably would leave -- some of it would leave the balance sheet as -- if we held down our own deposit rates as they sought higher-yielding alternatives elsewhere. And that wouldn't be a bad thing as long as we -- I don't want to -- again, I don't -- in that environment, I wouldn't want to rush out to deploy cash into long-duration securities, if it looked like we were really entering a stagflation environment.

Unknown Analyst

And maybe just a follow-up. If you think about a rising interest rate environment, the assets are starting to reprice, how would you describe your funding base in terms of your ability to either lag pricing or in terms of your funding base, that wouldn't reprice immediately?

Doyle L. Arnold

Well, I think the interesting thing is that while we're probably -- we're probably even more liquid than a lot of institutions with a lot of cash. I think most banks are -- suffice it to say, awash in liquidity. Everybody is searching for loan growth, in a way, to deploy that cash. Therefore, it's hard to believe that anybody would be tempted to raise deposit rates aggressively in the early rounds of any kind of rate increase or tightening. So I would -- and I think we'd be in the same situation. So I think that probably, the likely scenario is in the early stages of any tightening, most of it gets passed through or stays with us in the form of margin expansion in the early stages and then, over time, you would begin to have to match the rate increases. So that, I think, is the most likely scenario if a stagflation kind of -- or just a Fed tightening, for whatever reason, comes about. Yes, sir? She's going to rush him up here -- rush with a mic to you.

Unknown Analyst

Can you just talk about current loan demand? One of the other banks was talking about the sequester. There's a dampening loan demand in various areas and just dampening activity, and the standoff away from -- stand away from investments is sort of continuing. Can you talk about that in your franchises?

Doyle L. Arnold

I think, just general fiscal and economic uncertainty and the political uncertainty has been dampening the economy for a long time. And I don't sense that the sequestration itself is going to have any incrementally different impact on us. It's just a general dampening of activity, and I actually think this is probably much -- the reaction of this event is much milder than where we were going into year-end with debate over the so-called Bush tax cuts and whether some, all or none of them will expire and what will happen as a result of that. James, do you have any different take on that?

James R. Abbott

Well, I would just add that as we've talked to some of our line managers and asked them how their customers are feeling, there is more optimism today. And so, while there is certainly a dampening effect of the political environment, it's -- I think businesses are reaching a point where they're starting to need to grow or becoming a little bit more optimistic because of the tax certainty that we have at this point.

Doyle L. Arnold

Yes? Right here in the front.

Unknown Analyst

I don't know if you can put up the slide that showed the increase on return on, I think, common equity going through the various restructurings and so forth.

Doyle L. Arnold

There. That one?

Unknown Analyst

Yes. So what's the timeframe, the medium-term target to get to that, it looks like, about 9.5%?

Doyle L. Arnold

I would say most -- well, all of the essentially...

Unknown Analyst

It lines up with that?

Doyle L. Arnold

Essentially, it lines up with this. Most of it is -- there's a whole lot of it that's addressable this year and next. And then, this stuff here, the sub debt, that's the last of the really expensive stuff, in 2015. If we can tender for and retire some of that earlier, we can move some of these yellow bars into an earlier timeframe. But I mean, this $800 million goes from -- at 9.5%, probably goes to something like $600 million at closer to 6% plus or minus, this year. This is 11% pretax. If we can tender for some of it, move it forward, we may do that. But that gets replaced to, I don't know, 4.5% or something like that. And so it's -- and those are pretty defined timeframes.

Unknown Analyst

So more or less, over the next 18 to 24 months?

Doyle L. Arnold

Roughly speaking, yes.

Unknown Analyst

And I don't know if you can go back to that last slide. Have you quantified -- like you described...

Doyle L. Arnold

This one?

Unknown Analyst

Yes. The very first part of your presentation, you described the thought process behind not issuing common equity at the bottom, for an excessive amount. And have you quantified how much better shareholders are on an earnings per share basis, either now or prospectively, given the decisions that you made to address the financial requirement in the crisis the way you did?

Doyle L. Arnold

Yes, and not precisely. I think that -- I think the general pattern would be that, initially, we won big time. Our share count dilution was about 70%. For a whole lot of banks, it was 100% to 200% kind of in that timeframe. If the recovery from the crisis had been more of a normal recovery and we've come out of it and been able to address some things earlier, like either -- if we hadn't had as much of the sub debt convert into preferred and other things, we might have -- if the music had just kind of stopped there, we would have looked really, really good. As time has gone on and we've had to pay this rather expensive price for a longer period of time, some of that advantage, candidly, has eroded away. And finally, the last music hasn't been played yet because, again, other banks are still trying to buy back that stock at ever-increasing stock prices, and we're not faced with as much of that. So net-net, I think we're still better. It's been more advantageous, it's been more stressful on management, but I think, not quite as overwhelmingly convincingly as it might have looked a couple of years ago.

Unknown Analyst

Thank you very much. I think that's all the time we have.

Doyle L. Arnold

Thank you.

Unknown Analyst

Thanks a lot to Zions.

Doyle L. Arnold

Okay. You, too.

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