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Popular, Inc. (NASDAQ:BPOP)

Q4 2012 Earnings Call

January 25, 2011 10:30 a.m. ET

Executives

Enrique Martel – Manager, IR

Richard Carrion – President, Chairman and CEO

Jorge Junquera – CFO

Lidio Soriano – CPA Executive Vice President - Corporate Risk Management Group

Analysts

Joe Gladue – B Riley

Ken Zerbe – Morgan Stanley

Michael Sarcone – Sandler O’Neill

Brett Scheiner – FBR Capital Markets

Derek Hewett – KBW

Operator

Good day ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the fourth quarter 2011 Popular Earnings Conference Call. My name is Keish and I’ll be your operator for today. (Operator Instructions) I would now like to hand the conference over to Mr. Enrique Martel, Manager of Corporate Communications. Please proceed.

Enrique Martel

Good morning and thank you for joining us on today’s call. Our Chairman and CEO, Richard Carrion; our CFO, Jorge Junquera, and our CRO, Lidio Soriano will review our fourth quarter and year end results and then answer your questions. They will be joined in the Q&A session by other members of our management team.

Before we start, I would like to remind you that in today’s call, we may make forward-looking statements that are based on management’s current expectations, and are subject to risks and uncertainties. Factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from these forward-looking statements are set forth within today’s earnings press release and are detailed in our SEC filings, our financial quarterly release, and supplements.

You may find today’s press release and our SEC filings on our webpage, which you may visit by going to www.popular.com.

I would now turn the call over to Mr. Richard Carrion.

Richard Carrion

Good morning, and thank you for joining the call. There are three things we’d like to accomplish today, review our fourth quarter and annual results, analyze the latest credit trends in our portfolios, and present an outlook for 2012.

I will first go over the financial highlights and give general views of our results before I turn the call over to Jorge and Lidio. I will then come back to conclude our presentation. Please turn to the second slide.

If you mark a turnaround year for Popular, the $151 million profit for 2011 marks the first year of operational earnings since 2006. For the year, gross revenues remain strong amounting to $1.9 billion while the provision expense fell by $436 million. A substantial push to bring our cost of deposits down and greater interest income from our covered portfolio helped maintain a strong interest margin of 4.34% for the year.

For the quarter, we reported net income of $3 million in our fourth consecutive profitable quarter compared with net income of $27.5 million in the third quarter of 2011. Gross revenues amounted to $494 million for the quarter compared with $492 million in the third quarter.

The linked quarter decline in profit was primarily driven by a $16 million expense triggered by the implementation of a voluntary employee retirement program which we expect to generate $15 million in annualized savings. The fourth quarter reflected improved credit trend, and net charge off ratio decreased and commercial and construction NPL inflows in Puerto Rico fell by $111 million from the third quarter.

As a result, provision expense for non-covered loans fell by $27 million to $124 million. Effective management of liabilities drove the cost of Puerto Rico deposits to below 1% to help maintain the strong 4.97% margin in our main franchise, in line with the previous quarter.

The U.S. bank turned to a marginal loss in the fourth quarter on higher provision, but finished the year with a $30 million profit that compares with a $340 million loss for the previous year. Of still ways to go the financial turnaround of our U.S. bank has expanded our options to increase our return on capital.

We set four objectives at the beginning of 2011. Mitigated the client in earning assets amidst the economic headwinds in Puerto Rico, increased efficiency, de-risk our balance sheet by way of loan losses, loan sales, and loss mitigation, and accelerate the performance of our U.S. operation. I think we made great strides in all areas. Our held in portfolio loan book in Puerto Rico increased by $350 million at $648 million in loan purchases more than offset the decline in our public loan portfolio. We are seeking similar opportunities to take place in 2012. But we were able to substantially reduce credit cost in Puerto Rico during 2011, these remain elevated, and this is the one area where we anticipate the most improvement in 2012.

We believe most of the economic contraction in our main market has already taken place and we are well positioned for improved results in 2012. We’ve seen growth in the consumer lending sectors with declining delinquencies and losses and we are seeing an increase in the business appetite of our corporate client.

Before I turn the call over to Jorge, I want to briefly talk about TARP which has generated a fair amount of increase as of late. We understand these concerns about the possibility of Popular repaying TARP in a manner that is not in the best interest of shareholders. I would like to reiterate that we don’t have a current plan to repay TARP, we are not obligated to fully or partially repay it, and any repayment of TARP will be done in a manner that protect shareholder value and will be subject to regulatory approval.

When we did our exchange offer in August of 2009 we realized an accounting gain because we are required to market the new TARP [ph] securities that were issued to the U.S. treasury in exchange for the TARP preferred stock. This accounting gain is being amortized using the effective yield method over a 30 year period and has a current balance of $466 million.

The interest expense on the TARP capital is fixed at little north of 16% of the accreting book value. In other words, the interest expense on TARP has two components, the 5% coupon which we pay to the treasury, which amounts on the $935 million legal balance and the discount accretion. In 2011 interest expense on the TARP capital was approximately $73 million of which $47 million represents the cash payment made to the U.S. treasury and $26 million is the accretion.

While the step up in rate scheduled for December 2013 would increase our cash payment, interest expense would not be impacted because of the concomitant reduction in the discount. Key takeaway here regarding TARP, is that it would be repaid when feasible on the conditions that make sense for the shareholders and the potential step up in the rate will not be a significant consideration in making this decision.

With that let me turn the call over to Jorge.

Jorge Junquera

Thank you, Richard. Good morning to all. By turning to slide three, you can see the financial summary of the quarter. As Richard mentioned earlier, our fourth quarter results reflected continuing strong revenue levels offset by still elevated credit cost. We ended the year with strong capital that should benefit in 2012 from an anticipated decline in credit cost. We did better in 2011 than the previous year and 2012 should be better.

Richard touched much of the major items, so let’s move to slide four to discuss the specific variances.

Excluding the one-time cost of the retirement window and the lower gain on solid securities, a quarterly variance in pretax net income was $9 million. On the right side, you have the variances that add up to the $9 million difference. We had two events that drove down net interest income by $25 million. First, the yield on the covered loan portfolio declined by slightly over one percentage point coupled with our decline in average balances of a $156 million, reduced interest income by $17 million in the quarter.

Net interest income was boosted in quarter three by the favorable resolution of some loans and the runoff of revolving credit lines which have been benefiting our margin for several quarters. As we have motioned before, the covered loan portfolio is an asset that is running off and the income from this portfolio should continue to trend down moderately in 2012.

The other items that reduced net interest income by $8 million was the reversal of interest income on insured FHA and VA mortgagees that are more than 18 months past due. Starting this quarter, we will no longer recognize interest income once it hits 18 months past due. The amount reversed in the quarter cover the entire portfolio of insured mortgages though the quarterly impact going forward should be substantially less than the $8 million.

Setting the drop in net interest income was $23 million increase in loss share income, have principally resulted from the increase in the loan loss provision of the covered loan portfolio. The increase in this provision is only 80% covered by the FDIC. This pushed non-interest income higher in the quarter to a $149 million.

The provision for our non-covered portfolio in Puerto Rico fell $43 million as a result of lower level of losses in our commercial portfolio and lower delinquencies in our consumer portfolios. Also during quarter three, we booked an adjustment of $13 million as a result of the reclassification of commercial and construction loans to help our sale related to the loan sale during the quarter.

The provision for covered loans rose $30 million primarily related to two credit relationships, of which the $11 million were charge off with respect to one relationship. In the U.S. business, provision increased by $16 million as a result of a lower release of reserves. We drew down our reserves in the fourth quarter at a slower pace than in previous years due to slower trends of improvement in credit metrics.

We had a one time $60 million charge caused by the voluntary employee retirement window which accounted for over half of the $28 million increase in operating expenses. In December, 369 employees voluntarily signed up for the window that will generate an estimated $15 million savings going forward.

We’re losing some good experienced resources, but we have in place robust plans and a deep bench that will permit us to adapt the organization to be more efficient without impacting effectiveness. Most of the other half of the increase in expenses was primarily caused by year-end business promotion campaigns, and by cost associated with a rebounding of the U.S. bank in California and Florida and OREO expenses.

We expect lower operating expenses going forward with a reduced headcount, a consolidation of branches, and lower credit management cost such as legal and collection expenses.

Please turn to slide 5 for an overview of our capital levels. As you can see on this slide, we continue to strength our capital levels that are well above regulatory requirements. We are continuously reviewing our capital structure with the objective to ensure we maintain adequate capital for potentially stressful environments while we maximize its return.

You already heard Richard discuss TARP and let me underscore the main points. We have no current plans to repay or never will get it to repay and we will do so only when it makes sense to our shareholders. With that now let me turn it over to Lidio. Thank you.

Lidio Soriano

Thank you Jorge, and good morning to all. We reviewed the credit metrics for the quarter, and we made three general observations that sum up the credit performance of our portfolio adding into 2012. First, in the U.S. we continue to enjoy the benefits of the de-risking strategies initiated in 2008. U.S. construction exposure is down to $150 million which is down 55% from the balance we had at the end of 2010, an 82% from its peak of $858 million. Non-performing loans continue to decline though I suspected the change in the rate of improvement as beyond to level-off, as a result our recent releases have slowed down. This led to a higher provisional expense in the fourth quarter.

Second, all of our portfolios in Puerto Rico, except for the mortgage portfolio, show better credit quality with both early delinquency and NPLs decreasing. The increase in mortgage NPLs was driven by repurchases from our mortgage recourse portfolios. These are mostly [Unclear].

In early 2009, we stopped the practice of securitizing with recourse. These loans are from old vintages with an average seasoning of seven years and average loan size of $102,000. Once we repurchase the loan we put them through our loss mitigation program, which as of December 2011 70% of all modified loans are still performing long due after modification.

Notwithstanding the increase in Puerto Rico mortgage NPLs, charge offs continue to be low. Our exposures in these portfolios are both contained and manageable.

Third, we concluded the review of all loans above $1 million in the Puerto Rico commercial portfolio which we initiated in the third quarter. Our review was risk-based with risky credits analyzed first. As a result, the third quarter of this year shows significant increases in commercial NPLs, charge offs and provision for loan losses expenses.

During the fourth quarter inflows into commercial and constructional NPLs decreased 52% to $101 million, the lowest inflow of NPLs in the last two years. On slide six you can see the principal credit metrics of the corporation. Total loans remain relatively unchanged on a linked quarter basis. Slight growth in Puerto Rico was offset by decreases in the legacy portfolios in the U.S. We expect the decline to continue in the U.S. commercial and construction portfolios until [Unclear] begin to outpace run offs by the end of the year.

Year-over-year non-covered NPAs decreased $232 million or 10% driven by sales of non-performing loans offset in part by increase in mortgage NPLs in Puerto Rico. Non-covered net charge-offs were at the lowest level of the year at a $126 million, a decline of $9 million versus the third quarter. The linked-quarter decrease in net charge-offs was mainly driven by lower losses in the Puerto Rico commercial portfolio.

In Puerto Rico our charge-offs ratio fell to 2.14%, the lowest in the year. In the U.S. the slight increase for the quarter in charge-offs was driven by two large loan relationships. For the year, net charge-offs in the U.S. fell by $269 million to $3.28%. The decline in the ratio of non-covered provision, the net charge-offs was driven by improved credit indicators in Puerto Rico. Even the still difficult economic environment in Puerto Rico we continue to built reserve for our lower rate due to the aforementioned improvement in the credit trends during the fourth quarter.

Provision to net charge-offs in Puerto Rico was 113% compared to 146% in the third quarter. In the U.S. we continue to release reserve but at a lower rate. Provision to net charge-offs in the U.S. amounted to 75% compared to 43% in the third quarter. Our allowance to loans remain flat. To understand our coverage ratio it is important to highlight that approximately 50% of our NPLs are subject to specific analysis. Most of it is concentrated in mortgage CDRs and commercial including construction.

Based on the fact that most of our infra loans are collateral dependent, we require updated appraisals or current evaluations to establish reserves and charge offs.

Please turn to slide seven for a review of our credit quality by portfolio. Looking first at the top right hand corner you see that non-covered NPLs were relatively flat with an increase of $6 million driven by an increase in the Puerto Rico mortgage portfolio. Equally important in terms of our mortgage portfolio is a graph in the bottom right hand corner which shows stability in losses. The level of losses in the Puerto Rico mortgage portfolio remains under 1% at 46 basis points for the quarter.

Commercial NPLs held steady during the fourth quarter with an increase in the U.S. cost by one large relationship which was partly offset by a decrease in Puerto Rico where commercial NPLs developed by $21 million. Puerto Rico commercial NPLs inflows declined by 53% to $93 million which marks the lowest level in the last two years. As discussed earlier, the conclusion of the portfolio review was the major driver.

The credit quality of our construction portfolio continues to improve. Exposure is down 13% or $46 million on a linked quarter basis mostly in the U.S. Construction of NPLs are down 31% or $59 million mostly driven by sales of units from existing projects, discounted payoffs, negotiated with borrowers, foreclosure sometimes referred to held for sale.

Net losses in construction increased from $4 million to $8 million driven by lower recovers. Finally, our consumer portfolio continue to be the best performing portfolio with strong credit quality.

Before I turn the presentation back to Richard let me do a quick recap and provide a brief outlook. My three initial observations were, first, the U.S. continue to show progress in credit quality although at a lower rate. Second, our portfolios in Puerto Rico, except for mortgage shows better credit quality. Basing the characteristics of our mortgage portfolio we feel comfortable with this risk.

Third, the conclusion of our commercial review of course identify risk providing additional income for us which will lead to improvement in the credit quality of our Puerto Rico commercial portfolio.

Lastly, our expectations for 2012 are that credit trends in the U.S. will continue to improve but at a slower pace than before.

Having finished a thorough review of our commercial portfolio in Puerto Rico and based on a stable economic outlook we’re optimistic about the credit outlook in our main markets.

For a recap on outlook of 2012 I will now turn the presentation over to Richard. Thank you.

Richard Carrion

Thank you Lidio. Please turn to slide eight. In summary, 2011 was a turnaround year where we boosted our margins, reduced our credit cost and turned our first operational profit since 2006. We’ve executed several important transactions during the last two years that have strengthened our financial position.

Operationally, we are a much smaller organization than we were a few years ago, and we’re focused on our core community banking business. We’ve progressed in our turnaround in 2011, and 2012 will be about building on that. We expect the Puerto Rico economy to remain flat, the U.S. economy to grow moderately, and our credit trends to continue improvement.

Given that, we expect net income for the company in 2012 to range between $185 million and $200 million, a significant rise over our operating 2011 results. The biggest driver in 2012 will be an expected decrease in provision expense.

With that, I’d like to open the call for questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Your first question comes from the line of Joe Gladue with B Riley. Please proceed.

Joe Gladue – B Riley

Good morning.

Richard Carrion

Good morning Joe.

Joe Gladue – B Riley

I wanted to start up with a few questions on credit quality. Just like you did get into the commercial credit review a little bit, clearly you had a decrease in inflows to commercial credits from third quarter to fourth quarter. Just wondering how to look at that going forward, do you think that the lower level is sustainable or was there some sort of the amount of that done in the third quarter, was some of the inflows pulled into the third quarter and maybe we see a bounce back after this quarter?

Richard Carrion

I think Eli will take that Joe.

Joe Gladue – B Riley

All right.

Eli Sepulveda

I think a lot of it is also dependent upon the economic outlook. I mean certainly in the third quarter there was a bit of a catch up in terms of NPLs and credit quality from a commercial portfolio. Under normal situation I will say the expectation will be something along the average of what you saw during the year. Based on the prospect of our economic outlook there might be a potential for decreases in inflows on a going forward basis.

Joe Gladue – B Riley

Okay. I guess wondering if you could touch on where 30 to 89 day delinquencies were and accruing TDRs.

Eli Sepulveda

I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but some of the levels that we going in terms of early delinquencies actually improved over the last two years. That should be the case heading to the fourth quarter, as we can see in the fourth quarter. In terms of our growing CDR, the number is approximately $300 million.

Joe Gladue – B Riley

Okay. Let me ask one more question and step aside. Just looking at the deposit flows, looks like there was some increased usage of broker deposits, and just wondering what your thoughts are on the outlook going forward in terms of generating more core deposits as opposed to broker?

Eli Sepulveda

Okay. The only reason for the increase at the yearend of our broker CDs was to – that we were very eager to pay off the FDIC note that I was carrying at 2.5 percentage point cost. We completed the statement of the FDIC note, and we went out then to raise some broker CDs. We’re expecting the broker CD balancing to go down substantially during 2012, so we so it big at the end of the year.

Joe Gladue – B Riley

Okay. Of course while I am on the subject of deposits, let me ask about the outlook for the reductions and deposit costs?

Eli Sepulveda

Okay. Yes, we’ll continue to work at it. We have been very successful through the last two years and there are some still some more room to go, probably there is – from 15 to 25 basis points, additional reduction to be achieved, and we have a lot of maturing CDs in the next few months. This should work out, but there’s still some more room.

Joe Gladue – B Riley

Okay. I’ll step back in the queue. Thank you.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Ken Zerbe from Morgan Stanley. Please proceed.

Ken Zerbe – Morgan Stanley

Yeah, thanks. First question, Richard your comments on TARP, I guess I was interested to hear your talking about sort of post 2013 in your discussion about when – or deals and the effect on the income statement. My question is, is your comments and indication that TARP repayment in 2014 or later is actually now an option for Popular?

Richard Carrion

Well, all I want to say is, first of all, we’ll do it when it makes sense to do it Ken. The 2013 date is not going to affect the calculus too much, because the way we’ve accounted for this, the interest expense is really not going to be effected when that rate kicks up to 9%. Love to do it before 2013 if it makes sense, love to do it whenever – you know, would love to do it this afternoon, but not issuing stock at this level. I just wanted to make that very clear that we’ll do it when it makes sense, and not be the trigger of – 2013 is not a date. So, don’t read into that that we’re going to do it post 2013, we’ll do it whenever it make sense.

Ken Zerbe – Morgan Stanley

Okay. Then the other question I had just on the net interest margin, obviously if they declined in covered loan interest income, I guess part one is, I assume that there is no offsets decline of $17 million, that falls directly to the bottom line. Then the other part of the question is, is there any other sharp declines in covered interest income that we should expect over the next 12 to 18 months?

Richard Carrion

I think in general the decline in income is going to come as the portfolio runs off. It’s really up to us to replace those loans and turn those covered loans into permanent customer. So, we don’t – this is not going to go to zero, it will be up to us to turn those loans into permanent customers.

Regarding the first question, there is no offset to that. I mean it was just – the third quarter probably was a little higher than it needed to be because of the kind of considerations that Jorge mentioned.

Jorge Junquera

Ken, just adding to that going forward we should expect to see relatively much more stability than what we experienced during 2011. Hopefully, it will become a something that can be modeled a little easier than what has been the experience in the past. There were a lot of moving parts in 2011 that should not repeat in 2012. So, it should be smoother.

Ken Zerbe – Morgan Stanley

All right, great, thank you.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Michael Sarcone with Sandler O’Neill. Please proceed.

Michael Sarcone – Sandler O’Neill

My first question, in your 2012 net income guidance the presentation says, you know driven primarily by lower provision expense, is it possible, maybe can you quantify that, and also quantify some of the other moving parts like minimum expectation and your operating expenses?

Richard Carrion

Look, we struggle a lot over doing this guidance and our intent really is not to go line by line on the guidance, but just tell you the number that we are looking for. In general, I think we were driven to do this because we know there has been a lot of noise in our order lease off-late and it’s very difficult to model the results. So, we did want to tell you what we are committed to doing in 2012 and we don’t really want to go line by line. As you know, if you look at the provision for this year it was down substantially by $436 million. Part of that was what we did in the fourth quarter of 2010 with the movement to held for sale. But, we think we will get most of the improvement out of the provision, but that’s about as far as we want to go on this one.

Michael Sarcone – Sandler O’Neill

Got it, so it’s just more to say that you see directional improvement.

Richard Carrion

Right.

Michael Sarcone – Sandler O’Neill

Second question, you have around $260 million of NPLs held for sale, and in the presentation you guys say completed NPA asset sales and TR [ph] in U.S. are you still looking to complete more loan sales or is that more opportunistic?

Richard Carrion

Yeah, they are held for sale and we will do it when the right opportunity comes along. We are comfortable with the level where they are marked at. We will continue to execute loan sales when we think it makes sense.

Michael Sarcone – Sandler O’Neill

Okay, thanks guys.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Brett Scheiner with FBR. Please proceed.

Brett Scheiner – FBR Capital Markets

Hi guys, couple of quick questions. There is a big swing in the corner in AOCI which hurt book value, can you give some color on that. I assume it’s about movements in the bond portfolio.

Richard Carrion

I think that has to do with the change in the discount rate of the pension plan.

Brett Scheiner – FBR Capital Markets

Okay, and then also covered NPLs doing some quick math, looks like they went from $11 million or $12 million last quarter to $95 million in the quarter. Can you just talk about the covered book in credit quality there, cash flow expectations, accretable yield, etc.

Unidentified Company Representative

I think the accretable yield is around 7%. I think that change had to do with a couple of large loans that we are dealing with and there was some charge offs there, and some movement into NPL. As you know we have to do a recasting every quarter of what our losses are and we’ve seen those consistently improved over the past year.

Brett Scheiner – FBR Capital Markets

Okay, thanks very much.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Derek Hewett with KBW. Please proceed.

Derek Hewett – KBW

Good morning. Do you guys have the amount of classified commercial loans or at least directionally could you say if it went up or down during the quarter.

Jorge Junquera

I don’t have the number in front us, classified commercial loans. I think they are actually having finalized most of our review in the third quarter in which we downgraded a lot of our relationship in the fourth quarter that was not as prevalent. So the number has stayed relatively flat compared to numbers that we had at the end of the third quarter.

Derek Hewett – KBW

Okay, great. And then regarding the non-interest expense, currently you guys are on a run rate of $296 million or so, and I believe last quarter you mentioned that you were going to implement cost savings of $25 million. Now this $15 million of annual cost saves for the reduction in employee expenses, is that part of that $25 million?

Jorge Junquera

Yes, I would of course not look up at the fourth quarter for business number going forward. I would tend to look more at the third quarter and that’s when we talked about the – that we are going to look at the expenses and implement some cost savings. I will look more at the third quarter as in order to go forward. Part of that will kick in queue one, so the retirement date is January 31st, so a part of that will begin to see the benefits in Q1 and there is also some branch consolidations that are in our plan as well.

Derek Hewett – KBW

Okay, great, thank you very much.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Your next question is a follow-up from the line of Joe Gladue with B Riley. Please proceed.

Joe Gladue – B Riley

I'd Just like to see if you could give us an update on the rebranding efforts in the mainland, and I guess how we should think of expenses related to that effort going forward?

Jorge Junquera

Well, Carlos Vazquez who heads our U.S. operation is here with us. So I will let him have a speaking part here.

Carlos Vasquez

Rebranding is going well in achieving the goals we set out which works to increase the amount of accounts we open for new clients that are other than Hispanic clients, and to increase the average balances of the accounts openings for all sectors and segments that we serve. As far as the expenses, they will compare to be similar than they were this year. We will be making a decision on the final part of rebranding in the coming weeks for the New York region, and they should not be considerably different.

Joe Gladue – B Riley

All right, thank you.

Operator

That concludes the Q&A session for today’s call. Thank you all for your participation in today’s conference. This concludes the presentation. You may now disconnect your lines. Have a great day!

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