By Tim Melvin
This week is something of a holiday for value-oriented investors. They might not get to take any time off, but they do get a few presents.
Growth investors and traders can celebrate earnings season, but for those with a longer term view of the world, the most exciting quarterly event is the filing of 13F forms at the SEC.
These forms reveal the holdings of institutional investors (as of the end of the third quarter), and allow investors to track their buying and selling behavior. Growth stock-types have to file as well, but their portfolio turnover is fairly high, so these are of far less value.
In 13F Season, Look To Community Banks
It is a big event for value investors in community banks, in particular, as they get a look at the buying and selling of the top activist investors in the sector.
Recently, analysts at Sterne Agee released a study that explained how riding the coat tails of leading bank stock activists can provide investors with huge returns. Over the past decade, they discovered that community bank stocks with an activist stake of over 5 percent (of its shares) have outperformed the indexes by a wide margin.
Almost 30 percent of the banks that have an activist investor end up being taken over at a premium to current market and book value.
The evidence makes a compelling case for investing in little banks that have an activist shareholder pushing for changes or the sale of the bank.
While the filings are due the 15th, it makes sense to analyze what the bank activists owned at the end of the previous quarter. Their top holdings will, in all likelihood, be those with the highest level of management engagement. They'll also most likely be determined to execute changes or a transaction that could move the stock higher.
Joseph Stilwell is a longtime activist with a great deal of success investing in community banks. He's also typically encouraged management to take steps to increase shareholder value, or just sell the bank outright.
Since 2000, Stilwell has filed more than 50 13Ds on smaller banks with a very high degree of success.
His five largest positions include:
- First Financial Northwest, Inc. (NASDAQ:FFNW)
- Provident Financial Holdings, Inc. (NASDAQ:PROV)
- Northeast Community Bancorp, Inc. (NASDAQ:NECB)
- HopFed Bancorp, Inc (NASDAQ:HFBC)
- Ameriana Bancorp (NASDAQ:ASBI)
Of the five, only ASB Bancorp trades above book value, so investors might want to take a serious look at the other four as potential long-term, community bank holdings.
Lawrence Seidman is another investor who has been involved in bank stocks for decades.
He's filed dozens of 13D filings and activist investments over the years with successful results; his top five positions as 13F season gets closer are:
- ConnectOne Bancorp Inc (NASDAQ:CNOB)
- Franklin Financial Corp (NASDAQ:FRNK)
- Stonegate Bank (NASDAQ:SGBK)
- Fox Chase Bancorp, Inc. (NASDAQ:FXCB)
- National Penn Bancshares (NASDAQ:NPBC)
Of his top picks, only Franklin Financial trades below book value.
Seidman recently signed an agreement with his sixth largest holding that gives him a representative on the board of Cheviot Financial Corp. (NASDAQ:CHEV). Cheviot trades below book value and looks like a solid long-term opportunity in the community bank sector.
PL Capital is an activist firm that has experienced a great deal of success the past few years.
The principles of the firm have strong banking backgrounds and have used their knowledge to locate undervalued banks and agitate for a change or a sale with a high degree of success.
PL Capital's top holdings from the second quarter are:
- Metro Bancorp Inc (NASDAQ:METR)
- Banc of California Inc (NYSE:BANC)
- BankFinancial Corporation (NASDAQ:BFIN)
- Enterprise Financial Services Corp (NASDAQ:EFSC)
- MutualFirst Financial, Inc. (NASDAQ:MFSF)
Of these top five positions, only Banc of California is currently a bargain issue trading below book value.
PL Capital has also announced it will seek two board seats at Metro Bancorp, so shares could be worth a look if the price pulls back closer to book.
2.7 Times The Index Returns
In the Sterne Agee study, researchers observed that from the time of the initial activist filing in a community bank stock, the mean return was about 2.7 times the NASDAQ Bank Stock Index.
That type of potential outperformance should not be ignored by investors. Tracking the activists should be a regular part of the research process.
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The author wrote this article themselves, and it expresses their own opinions. The author is not receiving compensation for it. The author has no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.