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Executives

Linda Caldwell - Director of Marketing

O. R. Barham Jr. - President and Chief Executive Officer

Jeffrey W. Farrar - Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Analysts

Allan Bach - Davenport & Co. LLC

Michael Rose - Raymond James Financial Inc.

Catherine Mealor - Keefe Bruyette & Woods Inc.

Bryce Rowe - Robert W. Baird & Co.

Stephen Moss - Janney Montgomery Scott LLC

Carter Bundy - Stifel Nicolaus & Co.

StellarOne Corp. (STEL) Q1 2009 Earnings Call April 27, 2009 10:00 AM ET

Operator

Good day everyone, and welcome to the StellarOne Corporation Earnings Conference Call. Today's call is being recorded. At this time, I'd like to turn the conference over to Linda Caldwell. Please go ahead, ma'am.

Linda Caldwell

Thank you so much, Melissa.

Today we have with us, O. R. Barham Jr., President and Chief Executive Officer of StellarOne Corporation; and Jeffrey W. Farrar, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer.

Mr. Barham and Mr. Farrar will review results for the first quarter of '09; and after we hear comments from Ed and Jeff, we will take questions from those listening.

Please note, StellarOne Corporation does not offer guidance. However, there may be statements made during the course of this call that express management's intentions, beliefs or expectation. Actual results may differ from those contemplated by these forward-looking statements.

Now, may I introduce our President and Chief Executive Officer, Ed Barham?

O. R. Barham Jr.

Thank you Linda.

Good morning and thanks for everyone calling in to StellarOne's first quarter 2009 earnings call. I am going to open this morning's call with some general comments, which will be followed by Jeff Farrar, Executive Vice President and CFO for StellarOne Corporation.

Jeff will give a more detailed analysis of our first quarter operating results.

As you are now aware, StellarOne did post a modest profit of $146,000 and a net loss to shareholders of $298,000, the difference being the dividend paid on our TARP borrowings.

Let me begin my comments for this morning with the Board's recent decision to reduce our annual dividend by 75%. This action was taken as a direct result of StellarOne's attempt to deal with current asset quality challenges and the unpredictability of the current recession.

It was management's belief that near term earnings would make it difficult to continue to pay at the historical dividend rate without eroding our capital. This action will help preserve our strong tangible capital as we continue to work through our troubled credits, in particular, those already identified in our A&D portfolio.

The related question to the dividend reduction is, do we see a continuing rise in the NPAs, OREO and the like. As we have mentioned before, the Smith Mountain Lake area has been and continues to be our softest spot in our loan portfolio. This area is very much a second home resort area. It relies predominantly on discretionary buyers as opposed to primary home buyers. As such, sales declined early in this market and evaluations have been steep.

With our remaining A&D portfolio, we have no exposure to any other similar developments such as Smith Mountain Lake. In fact, 70% of the first quarter increase in our NPAs was a result of one large additional Smith Mountain Lake relationship going to non-performer.

With the addition of this single large credit, 38% of our total NPAs are now connected to this one market area. Overall, 62% of total NPAs are made up of construction and development lines, and only 6.7% is commercial real estate, and roughly 13% C&I just for comparison.

As we look ahead, we believe credit costs will still remain elevated, but hopefully deterioration will be at a diminished rate. The economy of course will determine that.

A few possible bright spots regarding this last large Smith Mountain Lake credit; with the borrower's cooperation, we have a planned series of auction planned throughout the year that will begin in May-June, and will be advertised on a national basis due to the quality of the product.

If these auctions prove successful and properties are being offered at attractive prices, that will still allow significant repayment of our loans. And we may begin to see some slight rebound of this market; of course that is our hope.

To this point, as of today, we are sitting on top of approximately 7 million in cash contracts for possible sales of some of our NPAs. These are not guarantied to happen, but it does point to the fact that buyers appear to be surfacing now. If these purchases occur in our first auction in May-June at Smith Mountain Lake yield, some positive results, we could have begun to reduce some of our exposure to Smith Mountain Lake and further reduce A&D exposure in general.

I will not speak to this specific provisioning for the first quarter since Jeff will touch on this. While no one enjoys posting a loss for the quarter, it was modest and modest because of our continued underlying earnings strength. Jeff again will speak to this.

A few remaining remarks: overall our past dues at quarter stood at 2.48%, a good level for this economic environment. The highest past due category was our real estate mortgage category, which stood at 3.9% or a little over $570,000. The real estate mortgage decline on our portfolio reflects the continuing unemployment situation in general, which now stand at 6.8% in Virginia as of last month.

Virginia's unemployment has been rising over the last few months, but more slowly than the national figures. The hardest hit area for mortgage delinquencies and credit cards in the Virginia markets in general are in and around the northern Virginia counties. We touched the fringes of these markets in two areas with our Fredericksburg and Culpeper locations, and both of these markets appear to be running a little north of 2% for 90 days past due incurred the New York federal reserve statistics. Though these are fourth quarter figures, I would remind you.

I will conclude with some positive facts. First quarter displayed solid amount of interest income at just under $7 million, a 9.1% over fourth quarter. Clearly, we are benefiting from a strong residential mortgage market, where refi versus purchases are running roughly 80% refi, 20% first time home buyers. But I believe purchases will increase as home values decrease, mortgage rates stay low, and the $8,000 government incentive becomes more known to the buying public.

Deposits increased by roughly $68 million from the last quarter and our gross loans came in at 2.263 billion. While exhibiting flat loan growth, I consider this a good result as we have attempted to reduce our exposure to real estate and are looking for solid commercial and industrial type credits and solid consumer relationships.

For the first quarter, we booked roughly 102 million in new loans. With the aggregate loan growth was muted by similar reduction in general lending.

Pricing on new borrowers is good as we are using a profitability model to give credit per relationships as opposed to merely running money. And I am most pleased to see us collecting an average of around $200,000 a month in retail and commercial loan fees through the first three months of this year.

Our total number of retail households is now approaching 100,000 and corporate banking household have now grown over 8% since the merger. Total corporate and retail households now stand at roughly 112,000.

In summary, I would judge our business development efforts as good, but the market is challenging as consumer covenants still needs to improve.

Let me now stop and I will turn the discussion over to Jeff, and after which we'll be opening for questions.

Jeffrey W. Farrar

Thank you Ed, and good morning everyone. Thank you for joining us.

I have several topics I would like to cover today including a look at our earnings results, our revenue and its components, overhead and cost reduction initiatives, capital and liquidity.

I'll start with earnings. As Ed has mentioned, we did have a loss of 298,000 or $0.01 per common share compared to the loss of 898,000 or $0.04 a share for fourth quarter of 2008.

I'll remind everyone that the comparisons that I will speak to today are sequential or linked quarter to fourth quarter whereas first quarter 2008 is not comparable due to our merger.

I'm also pleased to say that this is the last time I'll have to say that is since we've now eclipsed the 12-month period since the close of our merger. Certainly, the dividend on the TARP was the reason for moving from $146,000 in earnings to a $298,000 loss with 444,000 in accrued dividends and discount accretion on the $30 million investment.

Pre-tax pre-provision earning for the quarter were 7.3 million, indicative of solid core earnings strength with the largest impacts obviously being that loan loss provision of 7.75 million, which actually was down from 11 million in fourth quarter and 1.6 million decrease in revenues primarily associated with our margin compression.

Speaking of the net interest income, we had 22 million in net interest income for the first quarter versus 23.7 million on a linked quarter basis, down 1.7 million or $6.09; a net of purchased accounting amortization of 1.1 million and 1.6 million respectively.

Our core margin, which also includes those amortization amounts expense compression of 19 basis points sequentially moving to 3.36 versus 3.55% for fourth quarter. I will point out that the results for the first quarter was also impacted by the non-performing asset increase that Ed mentioned to the tune of roughly 3 basis points for the quarter.

The compression has been predominantly yield driven, and we were down 44 basis points from a linked quarter basis. 36% of our portfolio is tied to prime and LIBOR; and as most of you are aware, we saw a fairly rapid decrease in those two indices, 4Q to 1Q.

Funding costs improved 16 basis points for the quarter, but obviously not near sensitive as the declining rates for our only assets. We are asset sensitive, and certainly we saw the result of that in the first quarter.

The other thing I think is impacting our margin is the fact that on our funding side, we are still predominantly relying on core deposits, and we are seeing certain types of core deposit instruments hitting floors if you will due to how low rates are in the current environment.

For those who care, the purchase amortization amount continued to come down for second quarter. We estimate 739,000 in pick up in net interest income associated with that amortization, and that number moves to 537,000 for the third quarter.

We do expect to see some compression in the remainder of the year, albeit we do think it will be less than what we experienced in the first quarter. We always seem to have a tougher first quarter relative to the remainder of the year anyway, but we are continuing to see some improvement in CD pricing as CD rates reprised down. And we also have a fair amount of excess liquidity now that we're working hard to redeploy to improve our operating leverage. And I do think we'll have as much as 15 million redeployed during the second quarter.

Shifting to non-interest income, certainly a good quarter for us excluding the effects gain or loss from field assets that we were up 523,000 or 8% to just under 7 million. The increase was primarily attributable to mortgage revenue, which saw an increase of 814,000 or over 100% on a linked quarter basis.

In addition, loans held for sale increased to 38 million, so we have approximately 38 million on the balance sheet ready to sale and to record revenue of... division was profitable for the quarter. We would expect to see some increase in earnings contribution from the mortgage unit as we continue through the course of the year.

Retail fee income from banking services was weaker, down 499,000 or 11.9% on a linked quarter basis. We attributed most of this to just seasonability fourth quarter versus first quarter.

Trust revenues were essentially flat at 1 million, continuing contraction on fiduciary assets due to market valuation contraction continues to hamper, if you will, our ability to grow revenues, but we continue to see some profitability from that unit. I have also picked up some nice relationships over the course of the quarter.

Let me now shift to overhead; continue to see some improvement in core efficiency from our overhead perspective with total operating expenses equaling 22.2 million, essentially flat without the fourth quarter of 2008 and having absorbed, if you will, an increase in FDIC insurance of 462,000 and increases of roughly 300,000 associated with mortgage commissions.

I'll also note that if you look at the run rate for overhead for the two companies prior to announcement of our merger back in 2007, we are running about 2 million less than the second quarter 2007 run rate for the two respective companies, which is indicative of our reference to our control costs and create additional efficiency.

Other variances for the quarter included a decrease in DDA related charge off of 442,000. This helped offset an increase in professional fees, which are in large part related to our credit issues of 340,000 for the quarter.

Comp and benefits were flat on a linked quarter basis, and will likely begin to increase modestly as commissions on mortgage production and related hirings begin to have some impact.

Having said that, our key numbers came in at 834 versus 846 in the fourth quarter of 2008, so we continue to see some contraction, if you will, in our FTEs. And I do think that we'll see some leveling on that as we go forward.

We continue to work very hard on cost save initiatives, having now consolidated two more financial centers, a total of four since mid 2008. We have one more consolidation scheduled for next month, and we'll likely have a couple of more branches that we are looking at in terms of some sort of combination or consolidation as we assess the metrics and customer impacts for those branches. These consolidations have gone well for us with excellent customer and deposit retention, and obviously have created some efficiencies for us from an overhead perspective.

We will continue to well work on some other cost save initiatives with more information to come shortly. Several other things that occurred during the first quarter from a cost efficiency reduction and tend, if you will, we will... we have accomplished the mission of looking at some restructuring on comp and benefits. We've put together some benefit plans that will yield some cost savings. We've held the line on merit increases and incentive plans for 2009, which I believe we have previously announced.

We have also restructured our corporate Boards. Beginning this month, we'll have a reduction in our corporate Board to 14 outside Directors, and we'll have a significant reduction in the number of bank Board members. Both Boards will also see a reduction in cash retainers and our Chairman and CEO have elected to take a 5% reduction in their base compensation.

Let me move now to asset quality. I think Ed's covered this pretty well. But a couple of points I'd like to make. Level of non-performing assets did increase to 70.8 million, a 2.3% of assets, an increase of 21.7 million or... excuse me, an increase of 21.7 million over the level of 49.1 million at the end of the fourth quarter.

Ed has noted the large increase of 14.7 million. Of our total Smith Mountain Lake exposure of 58.6 million currently, we have now 25.3 million or 43% of that total now in non-performing, and we have allowances or specific reserves on that 25.3 million of roughly 10 million, which represents approximately 17% of total outstanding.

To-date we have reserved and written down approximately 24.7 of our total exposure at Smith Mountain Lake. Again, that is both specifics and general reserves allocated to Smith Mountain Lake as well as its charge offs incurred over roughly the last nine months period.

NPAs consist of non accrual loans of 66.4 million, OREO of 4.2 million, past due loans greater than 90 days of 293,000, loans held for sale of 279,000 and TERs of 195,000. Annualized charge off amounted to 0.51% versus 2.22% for the fourth quarter, indicative of 2.9 million in net charge offs for the quarter. We certainly expect we'll see similar levels of charge offs in the short term.

We did have reserve building for the quarter, moving the reserve as a percentage of total loans to 1.56% versus 1.35% at the end of the year. This represents approximately 53% of non-performing loans and represents approximately 50% of total non-performing assets. We now have specific reserves within the allowance of 13 million representing approximately 37% of our total allowance of 35.3 million.

From a capital perspective, we continue to have strong levels of Tier 1 in this space. Capital was 13.65%, excluding TARP, a very healthy 12.44%. A tangible common equity ratio is a very strong 9.53% and a book value per common share is $16.01. We do continue to be one of the stronger capitalized banks in our peer group.

From a liquidity standpoint, we have cash and cash equivalents at the end of the quarter of 145 million, a securities portfolio of 323 million, certainly indicative of a strong liquidity position.

In conclusion, while we continue to have challenges on the asset quality front, our bank continues to perform well on many fronts. Liquidity and capital were certainly strong, mortgage activity should result in greater earnings contribution, recent deposit growth is encouraging, and we continue to find meaningful ways to improve our core operating efficiency, which will serve us well as conditions improve.

I will now turn it back over to Linda for the Q&A discussions.

Linda Caldwell

Thank you, gentlemen.

Now we will move to the question and answer portion of this conference call. Please limit your questions to one primary and follow up. At this time, I will ask our operator to open the call for your questions. Melissa?

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Thank you. (Operator Instructions). We'll go first to Allan Bach with the Davenport & Company.

Allan Bach - Davenport & Co. LLC

Hey guys, good morning.

O. R. Barham Jr.

Good morning.

Jeffrey Farrar

Good morning.

Allan Bach - Davenport & Co. LLC

Thanks for the good detail on the call. I was wondering if you wouldn't mind talking a little bit about the commercial real estate portfolio, and any update as far as what you are seeing there, opportunities as well as may be some areas of weakness that you might be seeing; any thoughts there?

O. R. Barham Jr.

In general, it continues to hold up. We're not seeing any issues there that concern us. And we are obviously getting an opportunity to look at some better credits from larger banks, where we feel that there are opportunities, we are looking at them.

Allan Bach - Davenport & Co. LLC

That's great. Do you... as a follow up, is I think it's about 812 million as the balance there. How much of that is approximately income related in investment properties?

Jeffrey Farrar

About 29%.

Allan Bach - Davenport & Co. LLC

Okay. Thank you very much.

O. R. Barham Jr.

Welcome.

Operator

We'll take our next question from Michael Rose of Raymond James.

Michael Rose - Raymond James Financial Inc.

Hi, good morning guys. How are you?

O. R. Barham Jr.

Good morning.

Michael Rose - Raymond James Financial Inc.

Ed, just a question on the mortgage activity; you mentioned it's been pretty strong. We've seen that from most of the industry. What markets is that coming from primarily?

O. R. Barham Jr.

Across the board, Michael, it's strong everywhere. The low rates are really making the difference in the marketplace, and so we're seeing good activity across the whole footprint.

Michael Rose - Raymond James Financial Inc.

Okay. And secondarily on... what was the OREO balance at the end of the quarter?

Jeffrey Farrar

4.2 million.

Michael Rose - Raymond James Financial Inc.

Okay, so roughly unchanged. And regards to the auction that you guys are going to do, are other banks selling properties in that area, in the Smith Mountain Lake area? And do you have any sense for kind of what they are selling at as a discount to, I guess the loan value?

O. R. Barham Jr.

Michael, really not many options have been held today. And so the May-June auction will be an eye opener for us as to what we think the market really will yield. So it's an important event for us. So, really I'd hesitate to project but I think. I think that May-June auction will tell us what the transaction will bring.

The good news for that particular property is it's very quality in nature, and it's going to be advertised on almost a national basis because of the quality of what we have to offer. You are talking water front properties and dark slips within that sort of things. So, we feel hopeful; let me put it that way.

Michael Rose - Raymond James Financial Inc.

Okay, great. Thank you.

O. R. Barham Jr.

You're welcome.

Operator

We'll take our next question from Catherine Mealor with KBW.

Catherine Mealor - Keefe Bruyette & Woods Inc.

Good morning guys.

Jeffrey Farrar

Good morning.

O. R. Barham Jr.

Good morning.

Catherine Mealor - Keefe Bruyette & Woods Inc.

Your residential mortgage past dues were up pretty substantially in last quarter. How much of that moved into NPAs this past quarter. Did you see another increase in past dues in that portfolio again this quarter?

Jeffrey Farrar

I can't tell you how many moved into NPA. Let me see if I can find that number real quick. I may not have it; if not, we can get back to you.

Catherine Mealor - Keefe Bruyette & Woods Inc.

Okay. And then a follow up to that was also if you could break down, I guess the NPAs, you gave the break down of the Smith Mountain Lake; that was about 14.7 million. Do you have the break down of the other 7 million increase in NPLs, what loan categories that came from?

Jeffrey Farrar

Not with us, Catherine. I'll be happy to circle back with you on it.

Catherine Mealor - Keefe Bruyette & Woods Inc.

Okay. Thanks so much.

Operator

We will take our next question from Bryce Rowe with Robert W. Baird.

Bryce Rowe - Robert W. Baird & Co.

Thanks. Good morning and thanks for the information so far in the call. Jeff or Ed, if you guys could speak to... you mentioned the demand deposit charge offs as part of expenses being down. I assume that's tied to some kind of overdraft product.

O. R. Barham Jr.

Yeah, certainly, it is. And we can't quite answer; we're just, I think, doing a better job of managing it. A lot of it is... fees that we were not realizing. It's not true principal charge off; at least a good portion of it is not.

As you... as I'm sure you're aware with these overdraft programs, those NSF (ph) charges can ramp up pretty quickly. And we're just doing a better job of managing that whole process. I think the other thing I would mention is as we move away from (inaudible) we're not as aggressively taking on the DDA accounts that maybe don't have the profile that we've had historically. And so... you inherently would see a little less in the way of charge offs as we move forward, because we're doing a little more in way of selective account opening as opposed to just have enough mass entry if you will through a mail advertisement.

Bryce Rowe - Robert W. Baird & Co.

Okay. And two I guess follow-ups; one would be any thought related to TARP and kind of the increased stigma that's come with having access TARP for the... to the whole banking sector that would be my one follow-up.

Jeffrey Farrar

Okay. I would tell you Bryce that we certainly would like a pay it back sooner than later. I think we would like to see how the next quarter or two plays out and kind of want to get a little more comfort as to where we're going with this economy and asset quality in general before we make that decision. But we are certainly are in a position, I think, from a capital perspective to do it sooner than later. But we don't want to jump the gun here; we want to make sure we know kind of where things are headed before we do that.

Bryce Rowe - Robert W. Baird & Co.

Okay, thanks guys.

Operator

(Operator Instructions). We'll go next with Steve Moss with Janney Montgomery.

Stephen Moss - Janney Montgomery Scott LLC

Good morning guys.

Jeffrey Farrar

Good morning.

O. R. Barham Jr.

Good morning.

Stephen Moss

Just with regard... most of my questions have been answered. But just following up on the Smith Mountain Lake property with NPLs, are they condos or houses and what's the price range?

O. R. Barham Jr.

Most of it is lots finished product, and many of them have nice curve side guttering, water severs all in (ph), it's not anything that we're having to fund a complete. So it's ready to go property, and so that makes it easy for us. That's the majority of what we have. There are a few homes, but not much of that sort of thing; overall, it's finished product. As I recall, originally we were in a kind of a ban of 4 to 700,000 per lot.

Stephen Moss - Janney Montgomery Scott LLC

Okay, thank you very much.

Operator

And we have a follow up question from Bryce Rowe with Robert W. Baird.

Bryce Rowe - Robert W. Baird & Co.

Sorry guys, I forgot one of my two follow up questions and re-remembered it. Can you guys speak to the M&A activity in the Richmond market over the last month with the two banks being announced?

O. R. Barham Jr.

Well, I would have to say that it wasn't totally a surprise to us. I won't say which, but we were a player and looking at some of that. Our decision has been to stay focused on the current bank, and the things we feel we need to do here. So we haven't been really progressively looking to do any thing though, certainly Richmond is a market that we desire to be in. There are other opportunities we feel that will present itself at a better time, and at a time that we'll be able to take advantage of it better; and I wish everybody good luck.

Bryce Rowe - Robert W. Baird & Co.

Okay, thanks.

Operator

We'll take our next question from Carter Bundy with Stifel Nicolaus.

Carter Bundy - Stifel Nicolaus & Co.

Good morning.

Jeffrey Farrar

Good morning.

O. R. Barham Jr.

Good morning.

Carter Bundy - Stifel Nicolaus & Co.

Hey Jeff, when you were talking about the margin near term contracting, were you talking about on a core basis or on a reported basis?

Jeffrey Farrar

Core basis. Yeah, I have tried to focus more on core relative to what's going on within the margin than the continuation of benefit we're getting from the purchase accounting adjustment. So I would... again I would expect to see some modest compression as we go through the remainder of the year, although I think it's going to be less than what we experienced in the first quarter.

Carter Bundy - Stifel Nicolaus & Co.

Could you talk a little bit about the deposit pricing environment right now?

O. R. Barham Jr.

I would tell you that it's pretty disciplined. We don't see too many outliers right now. I think everybody's feeling kind of what we are feeling right now from a margin compression perspective except for some that are not relying on core deposits and are seeing a nice pickup in reduction on non-core. But having said that, I would tell you that it's, again, pretty rationale. We look at it every week, and I think folks are pretty well behaved right now in terms of how they are pricing their deposits.

Carter Bundy - Stifel Nicolaus & Co.

In terms of an opportunity to reprise lower, it looks like you obviously ran pretty attractive interest bearing checking campaign. It looks like it went up pretty materially in the quarter. Do you see opportunities to reprise slower pretty much across the board in the CD... or excuse me in the deposit portfolio?

Jeffrey Farrar

I wouldn't say across the board. I do think the interest checking account, it's one that that we probably have some room on; certainly on the CD's, we're getting some reprising. I think where we feel the pinch is in traditional savings money market account, where we're just low right now that it's hard to push anymore.

Carter Bundy - Stifel Nicolaus & Co.

Okay. In terms of loan yields right now, are you getting some return or you feel like they would stabilize exclusive of NPL additions?

Jeffrey Farrar

I would say so, yes.

Carter Bundy - Stifel Nicolaus & Co.

Okay. Thank you all very much.

Jeffrey Farrar

Welcome.

O. R. Barham Jr.

Thank you.

Operator

And it appears we have no further questions at this time. I'd like to turn the call back to our speakers for any additional or closing remarks.

Linda Caldwell

Everyone, thank you so much for joining us, for your questions today. We appreciate your participation. And it does conclude today's teleconference.

Operator

Once again, that does conclude today's call. We do appreciate your participation.

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