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Citizens Republic Bancorp, Inc. (CRBC)

Q2 2010 Earnings Call Transcript

July 23, 2010 10:00 am ET

Executives

Kristine Brenner – Director, IR

Cathy Nash – President and CEO

Lisa McNeely – Interim CFO and SVP, Director of Financial Management and Credit Analytics

Mark Widawski – EVP and Chief Credit Officer

Analysts

Greg Ketron – Citigroup Global Markets

Terry McEvoy – Oppenheimer & Co.

Thomas LeTrent – FBR Capital Markets

Eileen Rooney – Keefe Bruyette & Woods

Operator

Thank you for joining. It is now my pleasure to turn the program over to Kristine Brenner. Please go ahead.

Kristine Brenner

Thank you and good morning, and welcome to the Citizens Republic Bancorp second quarter conference call. This call is being recorded and a telephone replay will be available through July 30. This call is also being simulcast live on our Web site www.citizensbanking.com, where it will be archived for 90 days.

I have with me today Cathy Nash, President and Chief Executive Officer; Lisa McNeely, Chief Financial Officer; and Mark Widawski, Chief Credit Officer, who all may have comments to share with you this morning. Brian Boike, our Treasurer is here to answer questions. After management concludes their prepared remarks, we will open the call up for questions from research analysts.

During this conference call, statements may be made that are not historical facts, such as those regarding Citizen’s future, financial and operating results, plans, objectives, expectations and intentions. Such forward-looking statements are subject to risks and uncertainties, which include but are not limited to those discussed in Citizens’ annual and quarterly reports filed with the SEC.

Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance, and actual results could differ materially. These forward-looking statements reflect management’s judgment as of today, and we expressly disclaim any obligation to update or revise information contained in these statements in the future.

Now, I’d turn the call over to our President and Chief Executive Officer, Cathy Nash. Cathy?

Cathy Nash

Thank you, Kristine. I appreciate those of you who have joined us on the call today. I’ll make some opening remarks and then Lisa will take us through the performance details, and Mark will cover the credit performance.

We are very pleased with our results this quarter, and I would like to review some highlights with you. First, our pretax preprovision profit remains solid. PPP was $34.5 million, which came in better than expected considering that our loan balance sheet is shrinking. Despite our shrinking loan portfolio with continued lack of creditworthy loan demand, we are still able to maintain solid performance of our core business. We expect that to remain in the $30 million range for the foreseeable future.

We continue to be challenged by a lack of creditworthy loan opportunities, new credit granted was down about $40 million last quarter, primarily in commercial; and direct lending showed expected seasonal increases.

Our net interest margin improved 21 basis points to 3.35% for the quarter. This was the fifth quarter in a row we saw improvement and it is our highest margin percentage since late 2007.

Overall, we continue to be pleased with our improved credit trends. Our delinquencies are down for the third straight quarter having peaked in the third quarter last year at 2.29%. Total delinquencies now stand at 1.57% at the quarter, down from 1.92%.

Our watch list has again declined this quarter in terms of absolute dollars, as a percent of loan portfolio was up slightly because our total loans declined.

Total nonperforming loans and nonperforming assets also decreased. Total nonperforming assets were $473 million at the end of June, down by $84 million from the end of March. This reduction includes the impact of the nonperforming residential mortgage loans that we mentioned last quarter. NPAs are down 22% from the second quarter of last year and also down 22% from the third quarter 2009 peak.

Overall, our results are consistent with the trends we've seen in the Michigan economy, which is about a year of continued stability in employment.

Our capital ratios were significantly enhanced this quarter. Our estimated Tier 1 capital ratio stands at 12.74% and total risk based capital is at 14.12%. Lisa will go through the details of that non-dilutive improvement.

Finally yesterday, we signed an agreement with our regulators. We are very pleased with the spirit of collaboration we've had with our regulators in drafting this agreement. As we announced back in February, we do not anticipate a compliance with any of the terms of the agreement will have a material impact on our operations. The agreement formalizes much work that was already underway in the bank.

We appreciate the many good conversations we've had with our regulators and look forward to continuing working with them as partners to ensure our financial soundness. Our results this quarter reflect our successful efforts in improving capital, earnings and asset quality, which are the key elements to maintaining that soundness. I remain committed and confident in our team's ability to continue to execute on our strategic initiative.

Now I'll turn the call over to Lisa McNeely, and she will walk us through the details of our results. Lisa?

Lisa McNeely

Thanks, Cathy. The net loss for the quarter was just over $44 million. Improvement over the net loss last quarter of $76 million was driven by a decrease in provision expense and an increase in net interest margin.

Our pretax provision profit was consistent with last quarter at just over $34 million and continues to be strong benefiting from our success in managing net interest margin, non-interest income, and non-interest expense.

We are pleased with our positive PPP trend as it reflects the work we've done to remain focused on generating revenue and operating as efficiently as possible throughout this cycle.

As Cathy mentioned, our credit trends have improved, which has resulted in less provision expense this quarter. Provision expense was $71 million, essentially matching charge-offs. This compares to $101 million last quarter. This is the lowest level of provision that we have experienced in the last five quarters.

Net interest margin was 3.35% for the quarter. Margin trends continue to improve and are at the highest level since late 2007. Compared to last quarter, our margin is up 21 basis points and it’s up 60 basis points from last year. The increases reflect our efforts around managing loan pricing and managing funding costs as retail CDs and wholesale funding matures.

We also continued our efforts with brokered CDs calling and replacing where appropriate. We’ve been able to improve our margin over last year even though we’ve been holding high levels of low yielding liquidity on our balance sheet and have had a drag from nonperforming assets.

Non-interest income was consistent with last quarter at $22 million. We had a seasonal increase in deposit service charges and we got a lift in brokerage and investment fees due to successful referral campaigns that generated over 2,500 appointments from our core banking group.

During the quarter, we had a net gain of $8 million on several securities transactions that helped our regulatory capital by 25 basis points.

Non-interest expense was $77 million for the quarter. We are pleased with the stability in our expense run rate, which reflects our continued tight control over expenses in this environment. We had additional marketing expenses related to Reg E compliance and promotional expenses from our revenue generating strategies.

Taking a look at our balance sheet trends; our total average earning assets of $10.4 billion were down $407 million, primarily due to decreases in the loan portfolio compared to last quarter. At quarter end, total loans of $7.1 billion were down $301 million from the first quarter. We continue to see balances decline largely driven by demand. All our portfolios declined except indirect which experienced a seasonal increase.

Although we are seeing signs of stabilization, we haven't seen a pickup in the demand yet from the creditworthy borrowers. In the second quarter, we approved or renewed $252 million in commercial loans and $136 million of consumer loans.

Core deposits of $4.8 billion were down slightly from the first quarter. CDs totaled $3.4 billion, which were down $225 million from the first quarter. This decrease is primarily a result of the planned reduction in brokered time deposits. These deposits represent less than 10% of total deposits at June 30.

We continue to have strong liquidity and a very stable funding base, 76% supported by deposits. On average, we sold about $600 million to the Fed on a daily basis during the quarter. We plan to continue to manage the level of funds sold downward the next few quarters as wholesale borrowings mature.

We had meaningful improvement in our regulatory capital ratios this quarter. Total capital was 14.12% and Tier 1 capital was 12.74%. The increases were a result of our strategy of continuing to pursue non-dilutive alternatives towards improving our capital position.

I am going to highlight a few of those for you. With the sale of our Iowa franchise, which closed early in the second quarter, we reduced our risk weighted assets, recorded a gain on the sale and added 51 basis points to capital.

In the second quarter, we sold $250 million of variable rate mortgage backed securities and private-label CMOs from our investment securities portfolio and used the proceeds to buy Ginnie Mae securities with a 0% risk rating. We recorded a net gain of $8 million on the sale. And as I mentioned, the combination of the gain in the reduction in risk weighted assets added 25 basis points to capital.

I will turn it over to Mark now for more insight into our credit quality.

Mark Widawski

Thank you Lisa, and good morning. As Cathy mentioned, our overall credit trends showed further improvement this quarter as a result of the stabilizing economy and our team’s continuing effort on diligent credit management.

Furthermore to Cathy's review of the total portfolios leading asset quality indicators, the near-term delinquency rate of 1.57% is the lowest since March 2007. Credit rating upgrades exceeded downgrades by $26 million this quarter. This is the first time watch cycle upgrades outpaced downgrades since June 2005.

Inflows of commercial nonperforming loans totaled $71 million during the quarter, the lowest level since June 2008.

This quarter I will review the trends as we look at the credit risks on a portfolio and asset class basis. Starting with the investment commercial real estate segment, which includes land hold, land development, construction and income producing categories.

Delinquencies improved $24 million over the first quarter. This strong result reflects the efforts of our special loans and CRE special asset teams in successfully negotiating and managing maturing deals. The ICRE [ph] watch list increased as a result of the downgrade of two deals totaling $26 million. Both are related to the medical industry, one property in Michigan and one in Ohio; approximately both are cash flow neutral and have viable action plans for resolution.

Land hold, land development and construction NPAs went down as exit strategy action plans were successfully executed resulting in resolutions. There were no new loans over $5 million added to the NPAs for this segment this quarter.

Of the $31 million in net charge-offs for the segment, approximately $12 million was related to two large relationships; a condo construction project in Ohio and a residential development in Southeast Michigan; both had been in our watch review process for over a year and experienced increased stress in the first half of this year.

The losses on these deals were recognized and remaining balances result within the quarter. There was only one other ICRE charge-off over $3 million, a retail construction project in Ohio that like the two deals we moved rapidly to resolve had been closely monitored through the watch process for over a year.

Our ICRE watch and pass credit processes provide benefits of improved structures and early identification of credit deterioration leading to our ability to improve loss given default on a deal by deal basis.

Looking at the residential mortgage portfolio trends, the near-term delinquencies 30 days to 89 days past due came down in terms of both dollars and as a percent of the portfolio from last quarter at 2.42%, and were lower than the year-earlier at June 30.

The increase in NPLs is related to a number of loans moving over 90 days past due without having shown a history of delinquency. Borrowers stressed by job loss of the spouse or reduced income levels eventually run out of liquidity.

Based on the characteristics of the borrowers representing the new NPLs, we will review the remaining portfolio and look to reach out to clients with similar profiles to proactively discuss potential modifications.

As Cathy mentioned, we closed on the sale of nonperforming residential mortgage loans and other real estate in the second quarter. We are very pleased with the overall results of the bulk sale. Our offering was challenged by the availability of product in other Q2 offerings; however, based on the pricing and product availability trends we see developing in the market for the rest of the year, we think our timing was appropriate.

As a reminder, the pool consisted of a variety of property types. The bulk of the assets were single-family homes, but it included lot loans, mobile homes and multifamily properties. Recent vintage single family properties sold at levels in line with what we realized in our retail disposition activities. Older vintage single family NPLs, ORE and other property types cleared the market at lower than the indicative pricing we received in Q1. In Q1, we moved $51 million to held-for-sale after charge-offs of $74 million.

In the Q2 sale, we realize $37 million from the sales of assets in the pool and recorded additional write-downs of just under $6 million. Our $8 million remaining from the pool in held-for-sale will be moved to our existing retail disposition channels.

Moving on to owner occupied and commercial and industrial trends, owner occupied NPAs are down $30 million from Q1, about two-thirds of that decrease is due to net charge-offs during the quarter. The $11 million in owner occupied resolutions included one loan over $5 million that illustrates the success of our workout process. The loan had been nonaccrual for over a year. We were able to negotiate a rightsizing of the facility, obtain additional collateral, and return the loan to accrual status.

Owner occupied charge-offs for the quarter included two loans over $3 million, one, a special-purpose collateral property.

C&I performance reflects the stabilizing manufacturing environment. Near-term C&I delinquencies of $10 million and 0.61% of the portfolio are the lowest levels in over three years. There were no C&I loan charge-offs over $3 million.

Resolutions of NPLs were offset during the quarter by one new C&I/NPL relationship of $7 million. Finally, our direct and indirect consumer portfolios show results and trends that are all good. Near-term delinquencies showed notable improvement. Indirect’s results were the best since 2007 second quarter.

NPLs for the categories were up slightly but remained below year-end 2009 totals. Cathy and Lisa mentioned the seasonal increase in our indirect volume. Our commitment to our indirect dealer base through the downturn proved beneficial as new indirect loans were up 23% year-over-year.

Further, our June branch-driven home equity applications were the highest in two years. We’ve maintained our disciplined underwriting and pricing in these portfolios with very good results.

Cathy, back to you.

Cathy Nash

Thanks, Mark. It was another good quarter of improving trends. Our strategy is clearly working. We will continue to actively manage our credits, analyze our portfolio at a detailed level with a careful watch of economic and employment trends, particularly in Michigan.

Our focus on the company is in two distinct areas, credit management as I just mentioned and revenue generation. Ensuring we have a strong bank under the credit overhang that can deliver consistent results as we move back toward profitability is a key focus for our management team and all of our bankers.

Our non-interest expense has somewhat elevated cost embedded due to loan workout. We expect that those expenses will continue for the foreseeable future.

Our credit results are pretty much on target to where we thought they’d be when we began our stress testing over a year ago. As our loan portfolio has declined, we expect some pressure on pretax preprovision profit. We said before, we expect that to settle around $30 million or maybe a little less each quarter. As we are heavily margin dependent bank, profitable loan growth from creditworthy borrowers remains the priority and demonstrates our commitment to serve our communities. Our view remains optimistic.

Now we will open up the lines for questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator instructions) We’ll take our first question from the side of Greg Ketron with Citigroup. Please go ahead.

Greg Ketron – Citigroup Global Markets

Good morning, everyone.

Cathy Nash

Good morning, Greg.

Greg Ketron – Citigroup Global Markets

Thanks for taking my question. Outside of the margin, once you had a great margin improvement during the quarter. As you look out into the second half of this year and maybe out in the next year, your loan yields improved nicely. Looks like still maybe some additional opportunities in the CD portfolio. It would be great to hear your thoughts on how you see the margin playing out for the rest of this year and next year.

Lisa McNeely

Hi Greg, this is Lisa. We will see some slight benefit from the wholesale funding maturities but nothing like we saw this quarter. So that’s our view on that.

Greg Ketron – Citigroup Global Markets

Okay. On the loan side, you had some nice yield improvements quarter over quarter. It that a reflection of the loan cycle which you have been able to obtain on incremental new business?

Lisa McNeely

That's been some discipline pricing and we are pushing to the wall on that right now and we are seeing some pressure, some competition in the market. So we don’t expect a lot more expansion on that side.

Cathy Nash

Yes, Greg, it’s Cathy. We really got disciplined around loan pricing about two-ish years ago, and we’ve seen a lot of that portfolio now renew and mature. And I think we've gotten the big bite out of loan improvement pricing there. And I echo Lisa’s comments; we see some competitive pricing from some of the larger regionals in our marketplace that is very, very aggressive. I think quite honestly, there are too many banks taking too few creditworthy deals right now.

Lisa McNeely

Greg, this is Lisa. One more thought on that. We did have a slight improvement in the resi margin related to the bulk sales; we had some accounting treatment related to that.

Greg Ketron – Citigroup Global Markets

So that explains a lot of yield boosts there?

Lisa McNeely

Yes.

Greg Ketron – Citigroup Global Markets

Okay. You touched on Reg E in your earlier comments when you were walking through expenses. Can you provide any update on how you are seeing Reg E play out maybe opt-in percentages and also any commentary around interchange fees maybe in terms of exposure, which I know it is premature to try to assess the ultimate impact there?

Cathy Nash

Sure. We are very, very pleased with our Reg E results so far. We’ve really approached Reg E more from a customer service standpoint Greg. We decided our portfolios into the clients that used service the most. So we started with those and it worked our ways through the clients who have never had an overdraft from their debit or ATM usage working through them last. So starting with that we’ve been very, very happy with our opt-in.

We are not ready to quote percentages, because quite frankly we are not finished working through all of our call lists, but I can tell you they have exceeded my expectations, and we have exceeded where we had budgeted those to be. So I am very happy.

In terms of interchange, I agree with you Greg. I think it’s too early for us to know. We’ll really be impacted by what is sort of the reasonable standard the market will set on this. So, I honestly don't still know the answer to that yet. We’ve got to get a little more information to do our analysis.

Greg Ketron – Citigroup Global Markets

Okay. Have you disclosed the amount of interchange fees that may at risk?

Cathy Nash

We have not Greg.

Greg Ketron – Citigroup Global Markets

Okay.

Cathy Nash

And if you ask me to quote that off the top of my head, I don't think I could do it for you.

Greg Ketron – Citigroup Global Markets

Totally understand. And then on the Reg E side in terms of mitigation strategies, do you have a sense yet, as to how you think the ultimate financial impact may play out?

Cathy Nash

Yes, we are at about from where we had budgeted and forecasted Reg E to impact us. We are right now trending about 50% better than what we had thought we would get. So again, very, very happy with where we are.

Greg Ketron – Citigroup Global Markets

Okay, great. Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from the side of Terry McEvoy. Please go ahead.

Terry McEvoy – Oppenheimer & Co.

Thanks, good morning.

Cathy Nash

Good morning, Terry.

Terry McEvoy – Oppenheimer & Co.

So that light at the end of the tunnel got much brighter, much closer this quarter for Citizens. And I guess, given the real improvement on the credit side reserves still 4%, 4.5%. Could you just talk about the ability to release reserves and with the PPE of about $30 million a quarter, do you think you can get maybe enough reserve releasing to position the company to get back to profitability?

Cathy Nash

Yes, I would take this – Terry, it’s Cathy – and turn it then over to Lisa for anything that she thinks I have missed. But our view on releasing reserves is we are going to do that when it makes sense and is appropriate for us. We also recognize compared to our peers, we have a pretty large credit overhang and we are sensitive to that and we want to release reserve when it makes sense and when it’s sustainable for us from a profitability standpoint.

So premature of that, I would be a little wary of, and Lisa I just looked to see if you added any?

Lisa McNeely

No, Cathy, that is exactly where I see the trends.

Cathy Nash

Right.

Terry McEvoy – Oppenheimer & Co.

Then Cathy, what are you hearing from some of your commercial customers’ renewed fears in the last couple of months? Has the attitude changed to being a little bit more on the cautious side?

Cathy Nash

Yes, I would say, Terry, what we hear from our clients is I think they’ve got some cautious optimism. And clearly, orders are up, clients are busier, the anecdotal evidence we get in client meetings and out in our communities is it’s feeling much better. I think folks are maybe a little afraid to dive off the cliff into let's go into a growth mode right now. But from a sentiment from a year ago, clearly different from six months ago clearly different, from three months, ago feel better, so I feel better every day.

Terry McEvoy – Oppenheimer & Co.

Then just one last question. It was touched on earlier. The increase in the CRE charge-off up to $50 million, those two credits, but if I did the math correctly there was still kind of a bump up in charge-offs, I know it’s comforting to see delinquencies down, watch lists down.

Do you think charge-offs in that portfolio will remain elevated, somewhat consistent with the second quarter level or do you think they are going to drop back down to the first quarter level, kind of excluding any one-offs.

Mark Widawski

Hi, Terry, it’s Mark. I think we believe that they will continue to remain elevated. The first quarter compared to the second quarter was a bit of a timing difference. And you may have had some of those charge-offs occur within the second month of the quarter and we were working through things, that we knew were going to potentially manifest themselves as issues. And in fact, the worst came true.

So, I think that our view is that we are going to continue to work through these on a case by case basis. You can see that we have had success in getting them through quickly. When we are taking our marks on our ORE and when we flush them though the process they are continuing to hold up. So we are taking them properly as they come at us.

Terry McEvoy – Oppenheimer & Co.

Okay. That’s it. Thanks a lot.

Cathy Nash

Thank you, Terry.

Operator

Our next question comes from the side of Brett Scheiner with FBR Capital. Please go ahead.

Thomas LeTrent – FBR Capital Markets

Good morning guys. This is Thomas LeTrent on behalf of Brett. Hope you guys are doing well.

Cathy Nash

Hi, Thomas.

Thomas LeTrent – FBR Capital Markets

Good quarter. Couple of questions already got answered. But I just had one quick question. Given the recent initiative you’ve taken including selling F&M and the credit improvements that you guys have seen, do you think the written agreement with the regulators will not require you to raise additional equity?

Cathy Nash

Our written agreement as we put out on our 8-K has no written requirements to raise capital.

Thomas LeTrent – FBR Capital Markets

Okay, perfect. Thank you. That’s it.

Cathy Nash

Thanks, Thomas.

Operator

Our next question comes from the side of Eileen Rooney with KBW. Please go ahead.

Eileen Rooney – Keefe Bruyette & Woods

Good morning, everyone.

Cathy Nash

Hi, good morning, Eileen.

Eileen Rooney – Keefe Bruyette & Woods

Just a follow-up question on the written agreement. Could you just run through what you think the impact will be for you guys? I know that there is mention of reviewing staffing needs and credit risk management practices amongst other things. But if you could just give us a little bit of color on what you think you will need to do to comply with all of those?

Cathy Nash

Sure. We’d be happy to. I won’t go through each of the items in detail but I will hit the management staffing ones because as a company we’ve turned some positions over at the senior level and I think we’ve demonstrated a good use of succession planning and talent management within the firm. But one of the priorities the Board laid out a year ago and we spent a fair amount of time on is being a little bit more formal in our succession planning processes. And in fact, we already had a Board retreat scheduled for the end of September to work on succession planning.

So I think it’s just a little bit more of a formal ovation of that for our regulators and their view, of course, that our Board is paying attention to the fact that we've got a good succession planned. When I look at all of the other items, for us and in our discussions with our regulators it’s a lot more of documenting our thinking and what we are doing and making sure our Board of Directors is linked into that.

So let me give you a simple example. We do stress testing every month and look at our different base case and our adverse scenarios. Our practice has been if we didn't change our view in a month we didn’t take that to our Board of Directors. They only saw changes. While the agreement would say even if nothing changed you still need the Board of Directors to see it. Okay, that makes sense to us. So really it’s a little bit more disciplined around some practices that have already put into place.

Eileen Rooney – Keefe Bruyette & Woods

Okay. That’s helpful Cathy. Just one other thing I noticed and that it was saying about improving your OREO position. Do you foresee further sales of nonperformers in OREO?

Cathy Nash

I wouldn’t say this Eileen. I think we’ve demonstrated where we think we can sell off assets and not harm the bank, we will do so. And we are going to proactively continue to seek ways to reduce those overhang assets, we call them here, in a way that doesn’t harm the company from a capital perspective and moves us faster along the continuum back to profitability. Mark, what would you add?

Mark Widawski

Yes. Eileen, I think also to Terry's question earlier, we don't see evaluations improving in the near term to a point where on a bulk sale basis, the bid ask on these properties is going to narrow significantly. But we are looking at it, and Lisa has formed a committee for us to do so formally when we meet on a weekly basis to talk about opportunities. So when we find strategic one-off discrete sales, we are still getting it right where we had it marked and to take that step to move to the next level is something we are continually evaluating.

Eileen Rooney – Keefe Bruyette & Woods

Okay. That’s helpful. Thank you, guys.

Cathy Nash

Thank you, Eileen.

Operator

There are no more questions in queue.

Cathy Nash

Thank you very much. With that we will conclude our call. And as always, if you have follow-up questions, Greg, Terry, Thomas or Brett and Eileen, please give us a call. Thank you.

Operator

This concludes today’s conference. Thank you for your participation and you may now hang-up.

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