United Community Financial's (UCFC) CEO Gary Small on Q3 2016 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

| About: United Community (UCFC)

United Community Financial Corp (NASDAQ:UCFC)

Q3 2016 Earnings Conference Call

October 19, 2016 10:00 AM ET

Executives

Gary Small - President and CEO

Tim Esson - CFO

Matt Garrity - EVP, Commercial Lending and Credit Administration

Jude Nohra - General Counsel

Analysts

Scott Siefers - Sandler O'Neill & Partners

Michael Perito - KBW

Scott Beury - Boenning & Scattergood

Operator

Good morning, and welcome to United Community Financial Corp's Third Quarter 2016 Earnings Conference Call. At this time, all lines are in listen-only mode. A question-and-answer session will allow this presentation -- will follow this presentation, pardon me. [Operator Instructions] Please note that this event is being recorded.

At this time, I would like to turn the call over to Mr. Tim Esson, Chief Financial Officer of UCFC and Home Savings. Please go ahead.

Tim Esson

Good morning and thank you for participating in today's conference call. Before we begin, I'd like to take the time to refer you to the Company's forward-looking statements and risk factors, which are on the screen in front of you or can be found on our Investor Relations Web site at ir.ucfconline.com. The statement provides the standard cautionary language required by the Securities and Exchange Commission for forward-looking statements that may be included in today's call. Also a copy of the third quarter earnings release can be obtained at ir.ucfconline.com.

I would now like to introduce to you Gary Small, President and CEO of both UCFC and Home Savings.

Gary Small

Thank you, Tim, and good morning to all and thank you for joining us today. And keeping with our current events theme we introduced on last quarter's call, it's only proper to acknowledge that the Indians held it together and are now doing all they can to get Northeast Ohio baseball fans to the World Series. We certainly wish them well and go try. Here at Home Savings, we backed up a very good second quarter with a very strong third quarter. Highlights include net income of just a tick under $5.2 million, EPS in it 11%, linked quarter loan growth across both the business lines and geographies and in total up over 5% on a linked quarter basis. Steady net interest margin at 3.25%. Fee income was up almost 4% on a linked quarter basis, and we continue to see a steady climb in our residential mortgage and investment income.

Residential mortgage activity continues to outpace the market and the industry as a whole. Our efficiency ratio dropped to 59.4%, for us a low mark to-date, and one that we expect to sustain. And our pretax pre-provision earnings were up 6.4% on a linked quarter basis, a very strong improvement. We're pleased with the manner in which we're achieving our success. The businesses are delivering very strong operating leverage. Year-to-date revenue will be up, north of 11%, over last year and expenses will be up about 3% driven primarily by the addition of our insurance agency acquisition earlier in the year and very much consistent with our expectations.

We continue to improve our operation as we grow our client base. By yearend, we'll have completed the replacement and upgrade of our mortgage loan origination system. We'll have completed the installation of the new business banking loan system which enables our branches to engage directly in business banking lending under $500,000. We will have made good strides on a similar system replacement for our consumer lending operation. We'll have upgraded our card program, redesign our investment program, the list goes on-and-on. In short, we'll be a much better operation than ever headed into 2017.

On September 8th, we announced the merger of Home Savings in Premier Bank & Trust. Since then each organization has been engaged in the initial planning stages for the integration that will bring our organizations together in the first quarter of '17. Thanks to the leadership of Rick Hull and Denise Penz in bringing their teams to table, all is going very well. We're on plan; timelines are set; resources are secured and relationships are being forged. Response to the announcements has been very positive for both the customers and the community. We all look forward to the expansion of products and services available for our clients, the new markets in which we get to do the business in and the talented teams joining forces.

With that, I'll now turn the call over to Matt Garrity to provide some more color on our lending and asset quality story.

Matt Garrity

Thanks, Gary. Our commercial business had an excellent quarter both in terms of portfolio growth and loan production. Balance growth was very strong during the quarter coming in at 12.98%. On a year-to-date basis, commercial balances are up 33.65%. In terms of loan production, year-to-date originations are running approximately 43% ahead of same period last year. Levels of unfunded commitments continue to show growth during the quarter.

With the continued growth in our commercial business, we've also grown commercial deposit balances. Commercial deposits are up 7% for the quarter and over 19% on a year-to-date basis. We also continue to grow the team with experienced commercial bankers with regional bank backgrounds with our 18th banker coming into the Cleveland market during October. Pipeline levels remain solid and overall we're very pleased with our year-to-date performance through the first nine months.

We expect fourth quarter balance growth to be more modest in comparison to the third quarter. Some of this is due to timing of loans closing in the third quarter that otherwise might have been fourth quarter events. Overall, we remain on plan with respect to our full year balance expectations.

In our residential lending business, we experienced another strong quarter in loan originations. Mortgage loan production increased over 30% in the third quarter of 2016 compared to the prior year, and on a year-to-date basis loan production is up over 18% compared to prior year. We continue to show significant growth in our Pittsburgh and Columbus markets with Pittsburgh originations up over 48% through the first nine months of 2016 compared to the prior year and our Columbus market up over 72% for the same period.

Our new Morgantown market continues to grow consistent with our expectations. Pipeline levels remain good and as of September 30th, we're running approximately 34% of this time last year. While originations have shown solid growth, we continue to execute our strategy to grow balances at a more measured pace as mortgage loan balances have increased 5.3% on a year-to-date basis.

In consumer lending, our core retained portfolio grew over 6% for the quarter and our auto portfolio growing over 44% during this period. We continue to execute here on our strategy to develop this portfolio with high quality in-market loans sourced locally. Asset quality continued to progress in the third quarter as delinquency, non-performing loans and non-performing asset levels all improved during the quarter. Charge-off activity for the quarter was eight basis points. Our outlook for asset quality remains stable.

I would now like to turn the call over to Tim Esson, who will discuss our financial performance in greater detail.

Tim Esson

Thanks, Matt. What I'd like to do now is touch on a number of financial highlights from the third quarter. As Matt pointed out by sector, we've experienced another quarter with really good solid loan growth. Total loans, including loans held for sale, increased 219 million or almost 17% to 1.5 billion at the end of the current quarter compared to the same quarter last year. This increase would amount to 18% on an annualize basis. When looking at deposits and comparing them to Q3 of '15, we’ve seen an increase of almost 63 million or 4% to 1.5 billion at the end of current quarter. Growth on an annualize basis would amount to 3.5% during the first nine month of 2016.

We continue to see improvement in growing public fund, which grew almost 40 million or 49% to a 115 million at the end of Q3 compared to 77.4 million at the same time last year. Non-interest-bearing deposits grew 44 million or 21% during the same time period. Furthermore, consistent with plan, the Company has seen an increase in the average balance of business deposits of 23 million or 20% also during the first nine month of 60. Most significantly, as a deposit mix changes, the Company has realized the benefit of lowering its overall cost of deposits to 38 basis points for the first three months ended September of 16.

Let’s move on to net interest income. As I’ve indicated, we’ve seen a drop in our overall cost of deposits in this last year at this time to 38 basis points, or a 9 basis points decline since this time last year, and a solid increase in the level of average net loan balances. Our ability to lower our cost of funds will be depended on how quickly we can attract commercial deposits. Net interest income was up 15.9 million or 11% on an FTE basis from what was recorded in the third quarter of '15. For the nine months, net interest income was 46 million, up 10% compared to the same time last year.

Our current net interest margin of 3.25% did increase from the 3.18% reported in the third quarter of '15. As we’ve discussed previously, this increase was due to realizing the benefits from there prepayment of high cost debt in the fourth quarter last year and the benefit have came from lowering our cost of deposits. We also saw an increase in the margin in the first nine months of the year to 3.23% when compared to 3.19% for the same period last year.

Provision for loan losses was 1.3 million in this quarter compared to 395,000 on a linked quarter basis. I am pleased to say net charge-offs in the second quarter totaled only 8 basis points. With that said, the majority of the provision expense in Q3 was a result of loan growth.

Non-interest income was 6 million in the third quarter of '16 compared to 4.9 million in the third quarter of '15. Favorably impacting the change was the benefit of insurance agency income of 451,000, coupled with a 14.5% increase in mortgage banking income. We also recognized security gains of 233,000 in the quarter as we continue to realign the investment portfolio to include higher-yielding municipal securities.

Non-interest expense totaled 13 million in the third quarter of '16 and the increase of 693,000 from the third quarter of '15, included in this increase were expense of 432,000 related to the operation of the insurance agency we acquired early in '16. After considering this acquisition, non-interest expense was essentially flat in comparison to the same period last year.

Overall, our efforts to control the expense base continue to be successful. These efforts furthermore continue to translate into the lowering of our efficiency ratio to 59.4% at the end of the third quarter of '16 compared to 63.5 at the same time last year. With continued growth in revenues in '16 and continued expense management, we believe there is still more room for improvement in the efficiency ratio during '16.

With that said, I'd like to turn the call back over to Gary Small.

Gary Small

Thank you, Tim. As is our practice before we move to the Q&A session, I'll comment on our vision for the remainder of this year. We are adjusting our guidance upwards for the full year earnings. We anticipate in excess of 15% EPS growth for 2016 as we see a very good finish for the year from an earnings perspective in Q4. Expect loan growth of 12% with commercial growth in excess of 25%. Earning asset growth will still be north of 8%, revenue growth in excess of 10%.

As Tim mentioned, adjusted for the impact of the James & Sons insurance acquisition expenses will remain essentially flat with prior year, no change in story there. Net charge-offs expectations for the year, we're still holding steady at 27 basis points. We anticipate approximately 10 basis points of what we will consider normalize net charge-offs for the entire year, when you exclude the isolated legacy credit charge that we took in the first quarter. While a great deal of effort would have been extended by the time we get to the end of the year, we only anticipate a modest amount of incremental acquisition related expense to have been incurred before 12/31, not effecting our earnings in a material way.

With that, operator, I would now like to open it up for questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Thank you. At this time, we will now begin the question-and-answer session. [Operator Instructions] First question comes from Scott Siefers from Sandler O'Neill & Partners. Please go ahead.

Scott Siefers

Gary, was hoping you could talk a little bit about the longer-term loan growth trajectory. You guys have been doing a very good double-digit growth for a while now. I guess maybe actually maybe two questions. One, so near term in the 4Q, sounds like maybe some timing discrepancies hit the 3Q such that the end of period looked a lot stronger even than the average, but sounds like those two will align more closely in the 4Q here. One, did I interpret that correctly and then two, the longer-term question was just about how much runway you have to sustain double-digit loan growth out into the future and whether you think some of the portfolios are beginning to get large enough that maybe you ease up a little on growth or whether you still feel very comfortable with the quality of what you guys have been generating?

Gary Small

Thanks, Scott. The first part of the question about the 2016 loan growth in general, I think your interpretation is exactly right. There was a little hot in that we had some fourth quarter activities as far as what we had planned, show up in the third quarter on a commercial side. So, we'll see something a little more modest in the fourth quarter versus the third. But for the full year projections, I think from my understanding of what expectations are in the market and what we telegraph, we're still right on plan. And if anything is going to happen, will probably be a little bit better than the full year plan. But certainly, Q4 will not be -- is not expected to be a mirror reflection of the third quarter on growth.

As far as the long term prognosis, I guess it's an embarrassment of riches, but we started with the bar couple of three years ago that was lower than most. So, I would not be dissuaded by the percentage increases that we throw out, the business is still there. Will we continue to sustain 35% plus on the commercial side, as we look out on our three year plan that drops back into the 20s because we start to have some churn on our existing originations and so forth. But again we're talking about portfolio that at the end of the year we would expect to close probably just north of 500 million with unfunded commitments and funded at 650. When we put our three year plans together, those numbers start to look like a 1 billion. So, we still feel like plenty of runway there.

The new item is really on the consumer side, we would like to grow our locally sourced which Matt very appropriately pointed out, indirect auto book to be something closer to a $100 million over a three year period, and we're probably running in the $30 million range as we end this year. So, that's going to be along with our normal home equity growth which moves at a slightly different pace, that's going to be a big plus as well. And we'll continue to keep residential mortgage outstanding pretty much capped in our effort to get the balance sheet further-and-further along the community bank, commercial bank mix versus the old SNL mix. So, we really do still see -- I would expect, we'll be talking about 12% to 15% aggregate loan growth for the foreseeable future.

Scott Siefers

Perfect. All right. Thank you. And then one unrelated question. So you've got first bank deal in progress right now. Just curious about your thoughts on additional M&A. Would you like to get this one completely under your belt, or just given, I guess, its relative size and the fact that you will still have plenty of capital, would you be comfortable looking now, for example, for any additional transactions?

Gary Small

Scott, we're probably in the second or third inning on this particular transaction, very happy with the way that the Premier situation is coming along, no surprises, and we'll be where we need to be by the end of the first quarter relative to integration and so forth. I'm currently engaged in conversation as I've been for the last 24 months with additional opportunities. We still have capital to deploy and as the part of our strategic vision going forward, the notion that we would look at another $500 million plus in assets to bring onboard via acquisition is certainly within our range and capability, and we're going to be opportunistic and continue to look at deals. So, there's nothing going on now that it would impair us from engaging in a second transaction.

Scott Siefers

Okay. Perfect. All right, thank you guys very much.

Gary Small

And I would mention Scott that, this is our first deal that we've done in a while. We did bring in some additional talent to the table relative to integration management and project management and so forth because as always those folks have their day jobs, and we want to do a very sharp and crisp implementation. So, we brought some resources to the table to make sure that we’re staying right on point relative to Premier and very happy with the results so far.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Our next question comes from Michael Perito from KBW. Please go ahead.

Michael Perito

Maybe a question on the expenses, so heard the commentary about how ex-insurance you guys don't expect much movement, but maybe it does sound like, as we get into year-end here, you guys are upgrading quite a few systems and then you also, as you mentioned, are only in the second, third inning of the acquisition of Premier. As you guys look to integrate the systems together, do you expect to see anything come up in terms of maybe upgrades you have to do on your own platform ahead of conversion, and do you expect any maybe expense build in early next year as the closing and integration gets closer?

Gary Small

That’s a good question Mike, and I’m going to let three of us answer that. And I’m going to go first and then I’m going to hand off. Relative to the Premier integration, as we see it’s at this point, we feel very comfortable with the cost estimates as far as the conversion cost and the one-time only cost. In fact, we were pretty conservative when we put those numbers together, so we don’t expect any surprises. And I would suspect that the numbers will only continue to improve versus our first round of assumptions. Nothing new has come up with our unanticipated relative to additional cost that might be required to do the conversions or to get into the post conversions stage if you will, so we’re all good there. I want Matt to comment a little bit about some of the costs element of his business particularly mortgage.

But I will share this with the group; each year, we look at cost very hard and obviously we had about the 7 million plus cost initiative back in '14 and early '15. We never stop having cost initiatives; they are just not as announced and robust as that. But a very typical approach for us to say, in fact we just did it for '17 what's the million dollars that we spent that we get the lowest return on, return on effort, return from an income prospective. Let’s get rid of that and help that fund the leverage that we need to grow the balance sheet and do other things that we want to do. And that has certainly born out to be beneficial as we look to '17. It’s that sort of mentality that allows us to feel very comfortable relative to keeping our operating leverage high and our expense base low. But Matt, if you could share what you could on the mortgage side.

Matt Garrity

Yes Gary, I would say Mike with regards to our mortgage system and our new loan origination system coming on, we'll see significant savings on a hard dollar basis both in terms of some labor savings, vendor savings, significant savings that will more than pay for the incremental increase in this system versus the current system that we use. And that’s without taking into a fact, the greater efficiency that will be able to grab. So, as we grow originations Mike in the business, we don’t have to staff up on the operation side nearly as much as we would under our current systems. So, we haven’t factored that into any of our and we certainly have a notion on saving and what that will bring us into '17 and even more so into '18. But what we haven't really baked in is just how much greater operating leverage we grab in the business as originations grow.

Michael Perito

Okay, that makes sense. Thank you. Then maybe just a follow-up on the capital question, do you guys have how much shares you bought in the quarter and what's remaining on the authorization?

Gary Small

Mike, we can get that for you. We're really pretty quiet for the quarter, I think by the end of the second quarter we had exhausted our 3% aspirations if you will, so there maybe a little clean up just so that we can match numbers by 12/31 for any compensation-related shares. But trading at the 725 range, the shine is a little off the apple relative to the buyback as far as being such a slam-dunk. We're still open to buying back opportunistically, but it's not going a driver for the quarter. And I think on outstanding -- [we have] Chief Counsel here. Jude, are we at 1.5 million shares?

Jude Nohra

That's what we had approved for I believe.

Gary Small

On top of what we had -- we had a little left over. So we feel like, we've got a couple of years worth of buyback authority as we see an opportunity and so forth. And relative to our whole capital management's strategy, we will continually look at buybacks and the relative returns on our other opportunities for capital like acquisitions and so forth, and manage our capital as effectively as we can.

Michael Perito

Yes. So you've got a little over 1.5 million shares remaining, it sounds like and I guess -- I'm sure you guys might maybe provide more updated color on next year with the fourth-quarter earnings as usual, but as we look to forecasting next year, the TCE is going to be about 10.5 once you close Premier, which certainly is much leaner versus the 12-plus you guys were at, but still probably 150 to 200 above where most of your peers are. Obviously, the currency is a bit higher today. It sounds like the M&A pipeline is a bit more stronger than it was maybe 12 months ago, but is there still going to be some level -- maybe not 3% -- but do you expect to do some level of buyback in 2017, or at this point is it going to be more on an opportunistic basis to the point where it's probably safe to not include it in forecasts?

Gary Small

Mike, given more robust answer on that in January where we come out with sort of the '17 guidance, but I think directionally if in the past couple of years we've said guys you can count on us for 12% organic earnings growth and 3% buyback and that's how we get to our 15%, will it be softening that tone towards the 3% buyback. Whether we do it or not, it's always on the table, but we will get to our 15% year-over-year EPS growth in other manners.

Michael Perito

Okay. Then maybe a question on deposits, I noticed in the quarter you guys looked like you added about $25 million of broker deposits. We talked about this a bit on the Premier call, but just curious as we go forward, I know you guys have said that you are comfortable with the liquidity you have and the growth outlook, but how do you guys stack rank in terms of as the growth comes in and obviously the number one option would be core funded, but in terms of borrowings and broker deposits, or raising money in normal CDs, I guess, how do you guys approach funding beyond the core non-interest or interest-bearing deposits once the growth kind of come to higher than what the deposit growth is?

Gary Small

It's one that have a three-year horizon on, and as we are putting our three year plan together last year, we determined that we did have the liquidity in the access to things beyond core growth to comfortably get us through '18 without having to trim our sales relative to growth aspirations, and that's stills a story through '18. But you saw, we did make our first step in a funding source that we had used to this point in time. We still see public funds and commercial deposit as the two biggest dollar drivers of our deposit growth. We'll make headway on the consumer side, but that comes at 2% and 3% a year whereas the dollars associated with the other are too or much higher.

But as we get towards the end of '18, Mike, it does bring us to that when we're looking at acquisitions and we say, we like growth markets and all that that brings with it such as Premier. But we're also equally interested in that bank that 60% loan to deposit or 60% deposits to total assets with the reasonable or even low cost of funds because we've got to use for those funds. And so that becomes more-and-more attractive to us versus where it was two years ago, so long answer to your question, we don't have to trim our sales through '18 and between now and that point.

We will have either taken action on an M&A or we'll have trimmed back our securities portfolio more than the normal attrition of the securities portfolio, and we certainly are in the money on that whole portfolio today, or we might soften our position on our residential mortgage portfolio, if we thought that there was merit to that. Each of those has a different return parameter, probably set them in the right order relative to how we might be pulling the trigger on that. So, we feel like we've got -- we've still got cards in our hand, and we're going to keep growing.

Michael Perito

So is it fair to say, over the next two years, to the extent selling securities and core funding, there's a gap between what you are growing loans and on the liability side that the broker deposits could be an instrument that you guys use to fill that gap over the next couple years?

Gary Small

Yes, we had not gone in any way to the external market for deposits in any material way until this quarter, and we did see that as a piece of our liquidity equation. And Mike, we're probably paying 5 to 8 bps -- [Tim], does that sound about right more than our normal funding at Federal Home Loan Bank and maybe Tim that's over our core funding right on top of that. So, it's not coming at any huge price. Public funds, we still are getting those that probably tend to have less than our core funding rate and obviously they're chunky, but we want to build the portfolio so that the range of the up and down balances is $250 million sort of portfolio on public funds. Today, we're running about 150; 18 months ago, we were running less than 25. So, the business is there, and we'll be looking to do something with that with the Premier transaction as well because now we're moving into the Akron-Canton market. And as an operator there and someone whose desire as the public fund especially with the all the turmoil that's going on in that market right now, we see availability for additional business there.

Michael Perito

All right. Great. That makes sense. Thanks for all that color on the deposit side. Just one last quick one for me for Tim maybe, the tax rate looked a little low in the quarter. It did look like on the average balance sheet that some of the nontaxable securities grew a little bit. Is that pretty much the only driver, or is this a relatively good number to use going forward, or do you expect some rebound higher in the tax rate as we look into the fourth quarter and early 2017?

Tim Esson

No. about 31.7 is a good number to use, in that range. Yes, we continue to add munis and there's about $64 million with the munis in the portfolio now, which is certainly benefiting us, but that's one of the major drivers in it.

Gary Small

Mike, I would say in January as one of our guidance side, we'll come out with an effective tax rate because they'll all be refreshed at least for the '17 period because we will be taking up stronger position munis. We’ve got some tax credit investments which they will accumulate, but they all affect the rate. So, we will trim that up and give you something in January.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Our next question comes from Scott Beury from Boenning & Scattergood. Please go ahead.

Scott Beury

Just a quick question, most of what I had noted was already discussed, but, on the expense side, I did notice from looking at the linked quarter that the other line item was up, it looked like around 375,000, and I was just curious is that related to some of the additions from the insurance agency, or was that something else?

Gary Small

I'll let Tim noodle on what might be in other. The agency expenses should be going to the categories that would be appropriate, of which salaries or 75% of that. So, that should be reflected up in that line item. There are REO and other sorts of expenses that make other kind of lumpy. Nothing is jumping off of my notes relative to the other category that, this was unique. Tim, did you have anything?

Tim Esson

No, there are some of the insurance dollars that go through there, that can impact that in another, but it’s not one item.

Gary Small

Are we talking about insurance as FDIC insurance?

Tim Esson

No, I’m talking about the agency.

Gary Small

Okay, but that's de minimis. That wouldn’t be on your graph.

Tim Esson

No, it’s not in one place, Garry.

Gary Small

Scott, we will take a look at it and see if there is any story and there in support of a number that large, but I think it’s just a lumpy category that the couple of items, line items that are rolling other from time to time in a quarter.

Scott Beury

Sure, sure. No, I certainly understand. It's not huge or anything, just wanted to make sure that there wasn't anything specific driving that. I guess, otherwise, you saw some pressure in the interchange fees. I was just curious if you had any thoughts there on what you are expecting in terms of trends for that line item?

Gary Small

Yes, it's seasonal line item with debit card usage going with the flow of the season. We expect Q4 to be really strong line interchange. We all have our macro limitations that will run out of either Washington or from MasterCard and Visa. But generally speaking, we see this is a 7% to 8% kind of increase the year, and like the old debit card fees used to be. We're seeing usage improvement there and that line should grow a little bit faster than the other deposit relative lines on a go forward basis.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] This concludes our question-and-answer session. I’d like to turn the conference over to Mr. Gary Small, for any closing remarks.

Gary Small

Well, again thank you for joining us this morning. I will reiterate, I think the quality of our earnings this quarter was just that much better than it was in the second quarter. And that we had a more normalized provision expense and so forth reflected this quarter. Our linked number is strong, and as I mentioned we really see the fourth quarter as being a continuation of the story and perhaps noticeably stronger. So with that in mind I look forward to good yearend story and talking with you all again in January. Thanks very much.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, the conference has now concluded. Thank you for attending today's presentation. You may now disconnect.

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