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StellarOne Corporation. (NASDAQ:STEL)

Q1 2010 Earnings Call

April 29, 2010; 10:00 am ET

Executives

Linda Caldwell - IR

O.R. Barham - President and CEO

Jeffrey Farrar - EVP and CFO

Analysts

Michael Rose - Raymond James

Alan Bach - Davenport & Co

Catherine Mealor - KBW

Avi Barak - Sandler O'Neill

Steve Moss - Janney Montgomery

Bryce Rowe - Robert Baird

Carter Bundy - Stifel Nicolaus

Operator

Good day, ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the StellarOne Corporation Earnings Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later we will conduct and question-and-answer session and instructions will follow at that time. (Operators Instructions). I will now introduce today's host to this conference Ms. Linda Caldwell, you may begin now ma'am.

Linda Caldwell

Thank you, Therese. Today we have with us, O.R. Ed 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 2010. 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 maybe statements made during the course of this call that express management’s intentions, beliefs, or expectations. Actual results may differ from those contemplated by these forward-looking statements.

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

Ed Barham

Thank you, Linda, and good morning to everybody. Let me jump right into my comments regarding our first quarter results. I will provide you a brief overview of our financial results, some detail on asset quality and future outlook and I’ll be then be followed by Jeff Farrar, Executive Vice President and CFO for StellarOne Corporation. He will get us some further financial results in detail. Once we have concluded our remarks, we will take your questions.

First quarter 2010 results provided our second consecutive quarter of growing profitability for the company. StellarOne for the first quarter 2010 earned $1,854,000. On a per share basis to our common share holders excluding dividends and a discount accretion of preferred stock, we are in $0.06 per share. While certainly not a return to historical level of profitability, this result does compare favorably to our past prior fourth quarter earnings of $546,000.

It also compares favorably to the net loss of $298,000, a $0.01 loss per share per diluted common share for the same quarter a year ago. We are obviously pleased to see our first quarter improvement. First quarter was helped by some one-time gain associated with the sale of our Farmville branch and some cleaning up of our investment portfolio. Jeff will provide more detail on these items in his later comments. Despite these one-time gains StellarOne's core earnings were still in excess of $1.5 million. The results for first quarter were bolstered by and expanded net interest margin ending the quarter at 3.52%.

Positive bottom line results from our retail and wholesale mortgage operations and a growing profitability in our wealth management area helped this. Long growth overall still remains a challenge and I will have more to say about that in a moment.

Our provisioning level for the first quarter of 2010 was $6.7 million, while net charge-offs were $6.2 million. Our allowance coverage for the first quarter ended at 1.89% versus the yearend 2009 at 1.84%. For further comparison, first quarter 2009 provisioning amounted to $7.8 million and fourth quarter 2009’s provision was $3.5 million.

Our coverage for non-performing loans increased to 69% from the 66% coverage at the end of the last quarter. The total dollar from non-performing loans declined slightly $3.2 million for first quarter 2010 to $62.9 million resulting in a ratio of 2.1% of total assets. The biggest contributors to this improvement was a $2.2 million reduction in OREO.

Other asset quality indicators, TDRs increased less than $3 million with the bulk of that increase related $2.2 million C&I credit removed out of non-performing to accruing TDR status. The bulk of these TDRs continue to be modified residential mortgages roughly $20 million which are performing well. It is our hope that at some point in the future we will begin to reduce these by moving them back to a performance status. It is worth commenting that StellarOne did have a $6.7 million A&D credit added to our non-performing loans at the end of February.

This is a development loan that is in a well-established premiere property that went to non-performing status not because of the failure of the development, but primarily due to a divorce and resulting settlement. The borrower has essentially decided to turn the development over to the bank. Though it is very likely you will see a significant pickup in our OREO by next quarter with a corresponding drop in NPLs.

I might add this loan was not located in the Smith Mountain Lake area. We feel that it has great marketability due to the location, proven demands and development and the available amenities that are already in place. We have already reserved what we feel is an appropriate provision. Overall, our past dues edged us slightly from the last quarter moving to from 2.46% fourth quarter 2009 to 2.8% first quarter 2010.

This is in line with what we’ve experienced most of last year. Some of this quarter’s slight increase was a function of a smaller loan portfolio balance as StellarOne saw roughly 1.9% decrease in our load outstandings. Our continuing decrease in load outstanding can be directly traced to our ongoing decline in acquisition and development loans. Since the first of 2009, we have now seen our A&D portfolios shrink by roughly $100 million, $33.6 million since January 1st of this year alone.

As stated in earlier calls, we are working to reduce our exposure to A&D and increase our lending on the consumer side and commercial and industrial. On the topic of C&I lending, we have hired since the last quarter three new C&I lenders with significant end market share portfolios. To this lenders joined our loan production office in Richmond and the other our Roanoke markets. These recent hires represent the continuation of our efforts to improve our capabilities to grow commercial lending and our most promising markets.

We will continue to look at resources in this area since January 1st 2010 and new head for retail was also higher from Wells Fargo. It has brought a new level of activity on consumer loan originations from our branches and we are beginning to see results from this effort. Hopefully, by second quarter, we can share some positive news on that front. I will add, we are seeing across the Board, a slight improvement in loan demand and especially in the mortgage line of business and retail lending. Jeff will shed more light on this in his comments.

Since February, we have moved our call center which has roughly 30 employees under the retail line of business and are emphasizing more outbound calling efforts. This call center was established in February 2008 with our last merger as a way to primarily handle customer questions and problems. The emphasis going forward will be more on our outline, outbound sales calls and I believe this area will be a meaningful contributor to our future growth especially in products like internet banking.

One last comment on retail. We are now actively using our line of business and branch profitability measurement system companywide. This is the first for our company and I believe it will be a great gamechanger overtime. We use this system to constantly evaluate the profitability of each business unit even down to the branch level. We use this measurement system to determine how to better staff, manage, monitor and reward our employees. This is helping our employees be better managers themself because they now have the tools to manage.

It is the same system that has helped us make the decisions on the closure, combination of eight branches prior to the last year, resulting in an annualized operating savings of roughly $1.8 million. We will continue to refine our delivery channels with this system and the resulting profitability and efficiency should follow. I will not delve into operating overhead or efficiency at this point, but again leave to Jeff to discuss.

A few concluding comments. While the economy continues it recovery albeit slowly, I am happy to report that our troubled assets in the real estate to the stressed market of Smith Mountain Lake continued to decline and I might add that the markets itself is showing some small signs of recovery. We still have had no new additions to our NPLs from this geographic area since early last year.

Approximately 49% of our non-performing loans are still A&D with roughly 60% of that's A&D exposure still in the Smith Mountain Lake area. But the absolute dollars are significantly down. I do anticipate an ongoing reduction in the Smith Mountain Lake exposure over the next two to three quarters as we finally obtain ownership of somebody’s properties and are able to act on moving them.

We have written these properties down to solid carrying values and recent appraisals have validated. We feel as the market begins to rebound, our carrying values should be realized when we auction these properties. The remainder of or non-performing assets are uniformly spread to that our footprint, a good progress being made only problems as well.

Let’s conclude with some comments on TARP. Last week we began discussion with the FED about possible scenarios for our exiting talk. The Board and management will be examining our options in the coming months in developing the plan to exit TARP as soon as prudent. No date for timeline has been set. With that I will now have Jeff for his comments.

Jeffrey Farrar

Thank you Ed, and good morning everyone, thank you for joining us. I have several topics that I would like to cover today and we’ll start with adding some additional color to new interest margin performance for the quarter. We continue to see some nice improvement in funding cost that droves the margin improvement for the quarter in spite of the five basis point contraction in asset deals. As described in our previous calls, we continue to get fuller from our CD reprising with about 16.5% or roughly $161 million of the total portfolio reprising during the quarter. This is an addition to the 29% that reprised in the fourth quarter of 2009.

We have another $231 million of CDs reprising in the second quarter or roughly 25.2% of the portfolio with a blended rate of 2.09% so we would expect to see some continued lift here. In addition, we have two REIT cuts representing 55 basis points on a higher Tier money market accounts during the quarter on, balances representing roughly $320 million. This was to align us better with market rates at the time and so we are optimistic that we’ll get some additional life here as well.

We’ve also recently reduced the rate on our high performance checking account by 75 basis points cumulative, which reduces the funding costs on another roughly $300 million in deposits. So while we would expect to continue to see some contraction in asset yields, we would expect some margin expansion in the short term. We know this will be very short term if we don’t get some lift in loan growth and work out some of the liquidity in our balance sheet currently. So we were very focused on making that happen and would certainly anticipate driving some additional earning assets and revenue growth.

From a non-interest income perspective, we had gross non-interest income revenues of $8.8 million and on an operating basis $8.1 million which was essentially flat to the fourth quarter. From an operating perspective, we had some contraction in retail banking fees associated with reduced and NSF activity which was mitigated by some nice growth in wealth management fees and insurance related revenues. We began to see some noticeable lift from our debit card activity in the quarter, the result of a focused effort on the part of retail to improve our penetration level.

Mortgage banking revenue was flat sequentially continue to be strong in both wholesale and retail and generated an improved earnings contribution for the quarter. This unit closed 688 units or roughly $124 million in total originations for the quarter and generated a net earnings contribution of over 300,000 for the quarter.

Ed mentioned some non-recurring items, we did have some gains associated with asset sales, including the sale of our Farmville Financial Center for $748,000 in gains and the sale of some small MBS or mortgage-backed security positions for another $302,000 in gains. OREO losses improved to $364,000 compared to $1.8 million on a linked quarter basis which is impressive given the number of properties that we were able to move during the quarter. Let’s switch gears and talk about overhead. We experienced some noticeable in the level of overhead on a linked-quarter basis and saw very little core overhead growth as compared to first quarter as well first quarter of 2009, that’s being. Primary drivers for the decrease on a linked-quarter basis included a $579,000 reduction in professional fees and $865,000 decrease in compensation expenses associated with commissions, incentive and some severance pay during the period.

We also noted improvement in other expenses to $600,000 on a linked-quarter basis associated primarily with improved levels of DDA charge-offs and a reduction in appraisal expenses associated with both the secondary market activity as well as the commercial bank. Fulltime equivalent numbers came in at 818 for the quarter versus 823 for the previous quarter and we would expect this to continue to level out some and even increase slightly in the short term. Efficiency ratio came in at 72.23% which is 147 basis points better than the first quarter of last year and almost 700 basis points improved over fourth quarter of 2009.

While the level is still higher than we would like, we think that the greater opportunity right now for improvement is on the revenue side. Overhead as a percentage of average asset came in at roughly 3%. Excluding non-recurring expenses for the quarter were about $425,000 and normalizing for another $350,000 in excess professional fees associated with loan workouts and one-time consulting engagements, this percentage on a normalized basis looks more like 2.9% which is good improvement for us over the levels in 2009.

A few additional comments on the balance sheet if I could. Despite the economic challenges, capital levels remained strong. Tier 1 capital came in at 13.67% or 12.40% without the TARP investment, tangible common equity ratio was 9.40 for the quarter with tangible book value coming in at $11.94. We had a flat average deposit base on a linked-quarter basis, but considering the level of CD reprising and the fact that we sold $15 million in deposits during the quarter, we consider that a success. Average deposits amounted to $2.41 billion for the quarter, average securities grew to $366 million for the quarter representing an increase of roughly $15 million or a little over 4% while cash and cash equivalents at quarter end amounted to $165 million.

We continue to have some contraction in the loan portfolio as Ed touched on, with much of that contraction involving real-estate and in particular A&D. We saw shrinkage in that component of our portfolio that being the A&D of $33.6 million as Ed mentioned. We are hearing some early success stories from our new season lenders in both Richmond and Roanoke and we’ll continue to add capable lenders which may include the Tidewater market.

In conclusion we made some progress in the first quarter on a number of fronts, but understand we have ways to go to return the company to an acceptable level of profitability. We’ll continue to work hard to make that happen. I’ll now turn it back over to Linda for the Q&A.

Linda Caldwell

Thank you gentlemen. Now we’ll move to the question-and-answer portion of this conference call and at this time I’ll ask our operator Therese to open the call for your questions. Therese?

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Thank you ladies and gentlemen. (Operators Instructions). Our first question comes from Michael Rose from Raymond James. Your line is open.

Michael Rose - Raymond James

Hey, Jeff, can you address the tax rate, it looks a little bit low this quarter and kind of how it's going to shake out going forward?

Jeff Farrar

The tax rate is showing a lot of volatility right now because of the absolute value of earnings in relation to permanent differences, so as we continue to run around breakeven to slightly profitable level, you are going to see more of a benefit because of the level of permanent differences embedded in our balance sheet and then there our tax position. So, as we see more normalization of earnings that rate will continue to increase to what historically for us been a high 20s to around 30% effective rate.

Michael Rose - Raymond James

Secondarily, can you maybe address, I think you mentioned that you hired three lenders, C&I lenders. Where were they, and in what markets are they in? And do you have plans to hire additional lenders? And what markets would they be planned for?

Ed Barham

Two over the lenders are in the Richmond market. They were in the Richmond market and they came out of M&T. The other is in the Roanoke market, was in the Roanoke market and is now in the Roanoke market and I don’t recall exactly where it came from. I’m sorry I don’t recall where it originally came from.

Michael Rose - Raymond James

Okay, that's helpful. And, finally if I may, can you address how the new regulations will impact service charges for you all going forward?

Ed Barham

Well, obviously not well, but we are dealing with that and in fact are out in front of that with this quite a bit of solicitation planned. We have analyzed who our customers are that use the overdraft and we know them well and are making a special effort to contact them to make sure they opt in as we go forward. So, it’s a little early for us to tell how that will fall out, but on another front Jeff just touched on it his comment, we are pushing some other areas in the banks such as debit card income which we’ve raised penetration and number of cards outstanding to where we are seeing significant lift on that and we’ll be doing that in another areas and are already doing it in another areas to begin to offset some of that.

Operator

Our next question comes from Alan Bach from Davenport & Co.

Alan Bach - Davenport & Co

I was wondering, you had mentioned chatting with the regulators about potentially repurchasing the TARP preferred. Do you think that it would make sense to get that behind you before pursuing any strategic acquisitions? Or does that matter to you?

Ed Barham

I haven’t thought that far ahead to be honest with you Alan. As you all know if you come at the same time, if we found something but really haven’t thought it through that way, really have more focus as I have said before, just continuing to drive our earnings right now to clean up our balance sheet. And maybe by this summer then I will shift my thinking, but I’m limited in my ability to hold two thoughts at one time. I’m just staying focused on that.

Jeff Farrar

I would add, I guess the couple of comments Alan. One thing we are definitely sensing is that there is a lot of scrutiny relative to the capital position of the company, both with and without the TARP investment. So thinking about in terms of modeling if you will which you are going to look like in a post-repayment position. It certainly would be a cleaner analysis if there wasn’t an acquisition involved and so from that standpoint I think you are probably in a better place if you deal with one before the other meaning TARP before an acquisition.

Operator

Our next question comes from Catherine Mealor from KBW.

Catherine Mealor - KBW

Is your watch list seeing a similar trend as your NPLs? Or are you still continuing to see an increase in your watchlist loans?

Ed Barham

I don’t know that I know that right off the top of my head, but I’ll tell you the sense is because we sit down in special asset meetings fairly frequently. I’d say somewhat slowing would be the best way I'd describe it without I think the rapid deterioration that we saw last year all through last year. So, I’d call it leveling out, but just leave it with that, I don’t really have a number I can give you, but we don’t see it particularly worsening. We’ve got what we have got obviously the economy is still somewhat fragile but it's not alarming to us.

Catherine Mealor - KBW

Jeff, you mentioned that we're probably going to see slight net expense in the next couple of quarters. How about into next year, when we possibly get into a rising rate environment? How are you all positioned for that?

Jeff Farrar

Positioned well certainly modestly asset sensitive, so we would expect to see some lift as rates begin to move up and certainly that lift could be stronger if we can also see the list on the loan portfolio.

Operator

Our next question comes from Avi Barak from Sandler O'Neill. Your line is open.

Avi Barak - Sandler O'Neill

Two quick questions for you, first on the provision line item. That's obviously fluctuated rather dramatically over the past few quarters. I know you don't give official guidance, but could you maybe help us understand the provisioning more globally? When do you expect to see some reserve releases maybe? And how is the provision coming versus where you expected it would be, say a month or two months ago?

Jeff Farrar

I would tell that from the standpoint of just overall coverage on the portfolio, we’ve been pretty consistent now for several quarters and I think that a large function of that allowance obviously would be looking at the historical nature of your charge-offs and as the historical measure of those charge-offs begin to moderate, that’s when I think you’ll start seeing some release. So, I would tend to think about it in terms of evaluating StellarOne or any other bank on what they are actually experiencing in charge-offs and look at those charge off levels as kind of being my indicator as to when you are going to start seeing some lift if you will of the allowance coverage.

Ed Barham

I think Jeff absolutely on the money with that, I think the issue really is, if we have done the job, we should be doing and that is drive the values down to realizable values. if we are in a recovering economy which we appear to be in, then we shouldn’t have anymore of that hitting us and we should be able to look and say we are covered and we should realize what we are carrying those assets on our books for.

Avi Barak - Sandler O'Neill

On a separate issue, and maybe a follow-up to Alan's earlier question on acquisitions, obviously historically Stellar has grown through an acquisition strategy. And as you've mentioned on past calls, you're refocused internally now with dealing with your own asset quality issues. But, of late, as we appear to be in a stabilizing environment, has acquisition either FDIC-assisted or otherwise, become more of a focus or just moved off the backburner at all or are you still going to remain internally focused?

Ed Barham

I’m still in the same spot, I think until I get through a couple of more quarters, I am really not going to get too excited about looking outside my four walls.

Avi Barak - Sandler O'Neill

How should we think about the regulation change governing the overdraft fees? Obviously I think August 15th is when everyone has to be opted in. Have you reached out to your customers of that product and talked to them about opting in? And have you thought of any potential ways to recapture maybe what could be lost for guys that don't opt in?

Ed Barham

The answer to all of that is yes. In May we begin really in earnest to reach out to the customers and as I mentioned earlier, we have segmented our customer base to really know who the users are overdraft are and so those are really the once that are most important to is. So we are making special effort to contact this party, make sure they understand the need to opt in. But, it’s too early to tell what the final resolution of that would be, but we are not sitting around to get called off guard with that. we are driving other sources of revenue, of fee income at the retail side especially and that’s why I begin to mention the debit card program with we just finished which got tremendous lift on that and we are moving more towards them, getting better penetration on our analysis charges and commercial accounts. We are getting some lift on that, we are picking up some good fee income in other areas and insurance trust so. No, we are not waiting for that to see where it falls out, we are working to try to make sure we are increasing areas as well as getting the opt in as high as we possibly can.

Operator

Our next question comes from Steve Moss from Janney Montgomery. Your line is open.

Steve Moss - Janney Montgomery

I just want to touch on the mortgage banking side of things. You guys did mention a pickup in mortgage activity here and been running quite a few quarters now good mortgage banking like most others. Kind of what do you expect going forward?

Jeff Farrar

Well, I’ll tell you that we are encouraged with the level of purchase money origination we ran in almost two thirds of our production in March with our purchase money which is pretty encouraging for us when considered the volumes that held up and we are seeing a migration if you will from refinance. So, we are obviously entering a stronger part of the season, we are continuing to see some of favorable rates. We’ve got a full complement of originators right now. So, all in all I think we are still pretty optimistic that we can drive some pretty decent earnings performance in volume over the short term.

Ed Barham

We have got good network on the retail side particularly as Jeff said pickup and purchase money is what you want to see because refis are just interest rate driven. Purchase money tells you the market has some recovery going on and people are beginning to buy as you know the tax credit runs off April 30, and so we are looking at a pretty good pipeline. So, I think that impacts behind us and we do see some markets coming back.

Operator

Our next question comes from Bryce Rowe from Robert Baird.

Bryce Rowe - Robert Baird

Just a follow-up to Alan's question earlier about TARP. Jeff, you mentioned scrutiny on models with or without capital, without the TARP capital, that is. Any indication from regulators that they're going to want some amount of capital raised to repay that TARP or you are just not at that point yet?

Ed Barham

We are just having discussions now and it’s not so much what they are asking us to do as what we are running some scenarios, by then that we’d like to see done. I just would say that we obviously want to take care of the shareholders the best we can, so we are looking at the most favorable structure towards shareholders.

Bryce Rowe - Robert Baird

Follow-up on the Reg E question, what piece of the fee income is tied to the point of sale overdrafts or the ATM overdrafts?

Ed Barham

I think about 48%.

Bryce Rowe - Robert Baird

Jeff, you talked about some of the deposit costs coming in. Can you tell us what to expect there? Maybe I just didn't catch it well enough, but you had interest checking 97 basis points, average costs for the quarter money market a 134 basis points. Are you telling us those are going to come down materially here in the second quarter?

Jeff Farrar

Well, define materially, I would tell you that, I think we’ve got some additional lift on both. I’m not in a position to want to quantify it, but certainly when you consider that we had some fairly significant cuts and rates on both that occurred over the course of the first quarter. So we obviously didn’t see a full lift, because of the way we staggered them in. I would anticipate that we ought to get some nice improvement and I’ll leave it up to you as to determine how much.

Bryce Rowe - Robert Baird

You mentioned one-time costs were in the expense line item of $425,000. What was that tied to?

Jeff Farrar

We had a $0.25 million in snow removal.

Bryce Rowe - Robert Baird

Okay.

Jeff Farrar

We got a lot of snow here in Virginia. And then there were just some isolated items that really aren’t worth mentioning in the $50,000 to $75,000 range, we had a fraud loss for instance. So, just accumulation of about smaller items.

Operator

Next question comes from Carter Bundy from Stiefel Nicolaus. Your line is open.

Carter Bundy - Stifel Nicolaus

If you could just provide a little color, Jeff, from an expense standpoint, we're clipping along here about 3% of assets annualized. Do you have much room here to sort of cut any more expenses out of this model from an operating perspective?

Jeff Farrar

I would say that there is still opportunities, we're two years removed from closing the merger and heavy lifting I think is behind us. There is no doubt that there is still opportunities to pull our efficiency in and a number of the initiatives that we've talked about today even relative to things like branch consolidation. I think you’ll see continuing efforts to refine and build on those initiatives and so, yes I do think there is opportunity to get some additional efficiency and some additional performance relative to efficiency ratio as well as overhead to average assets.

Carter Bundy - Stifel Nicolaus

You said FTE are likely to stabilize here?

Jeff Farrar

Yeah, I think so. We are seeing some stabilization on that, we have obviously had to add some staff in certain areas such as risk management, such as mortgage given the volumes compliance. So, we have to build some infrastructure. Being a $3 billion bank, it just requires another level of infrastructure in certain areas. So, that’s mitigating some of the lift from some of the initiatives that we were able to get done in 2009. But there again I think we are pretty pleased, we are down from over 1000, two years ago. So, we are feeling pretty good about where we are there.

Operator

(Operators Instructions). I am showing no further questions at this time. Please continue.

Linda Caldwell

Everyone thank you for joining us and for your questions today, we appreciate your participation. This concludes today’s teleconference.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for participating in today’s conference. This concludes the program. You may all disconnect. Have a wonderful day.

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