When it Comes to Valuation, it’s the Quality of Your Bank Earnings that Count

By Andrew O’Keefe 

The quality of a bank’s earnings has an overlooked impact on valuation, according to an Invictus Group analysis of publicly traded bank stocks.   We all know that trading multiples of publicly traded banks are driven by asset size and quantity of earnings, but strong core deposits, optimal loan-to-deposit ratios, and reduced CRE concentrations are also factors that affect stock prices.

Here’s the proof. Let’s first reinforce the importance of two obvious drivers of valuation, which are asset size and quantity of earnings (measured by ROA).  Banks with strong earnings trade at a premium to banks with lower earnings, and on average, a bigger bank trades at a premium to a smaller bank with similar profitability, as Chart 1 shows:

Source: Google Finance as of May 31, 2019

Size matters for a variety of reasons. Larger banks have market and operational benefits, such as liquidity of the stock and the level of institutional ownership and research coverage.  However, that is not the point of this post.  For simplicity, think of increasing size as the first necessary step to truly move the needle with respect to valuation.

Earnings of course also matters.  In the world of bank stocks, the goal should always be to have your stock trade based upon a multiple of its earnings as opposed to a multiple of its book value.  Without having critical mass in your earnings, investors have no choice but to value your stock based upon a multiple of book value, and usually the result is not a pretty one – especially in this market where bank stock valuations are depressed across the board.

However, when a bank is valued by its earnings as opposed to its book value, the resulting price to book multiples will naturally be expanded.  As depicted in Chart 2, among major exchange-traded banks in the $1 billion to $10 billion asset size range with strong earnings (at least 0.8% ROA), P/TBV multiples expand with higher P/E multiples:


Quality of Earnings – the Holy Grail

The real question is what characteristics separate the banks in the highest quartile from the rest of the banks that ‘qualify’ to be valued on their earnings?  Investors correctly perceive that the quality of a bank’s earnings matter, especially in this late-cycle environment.  Those banks with lower loan-to-deposit ratios, strong core deposit funding, and reduced CRE concentrations are far less vulnerable to changes in interest rates and economic conditions.  But they also have far better growth prospects relative to other banks because they have excess capacity on their balance sheets, and investors crave growth potential.  Those banks with high LTD ratios which are far more dependent on non-core funding and / or with high CRE concentrations have no capacity left on their balance sheet for growth.

When analyzing these metrics among the $1 billion to $10 billion asset size group, there is a clear correlation between a bank’s capacity for growth and its stock trading multiples, as this chart shows:

Maximizing Shareholder Value

If you are a bank that is not in the top quartile, how do you get there in this environment?  The simplest and most efficient way to overcome balance sheet constraints is clearly an acquisition.  The right acquisition allows you to reconfigure your balance sheet virtually overnight.

Many banks, however, are balking at the low value of their currency (stock trading multiple), which increases dilution and TBV payback periods, especially for deposit-rich targets that tend to have lower growth and earnings. By acquiring these banks, the buyer can significantly improve profitability by lowering their reliance on high-cost funding and increasing the net interest margin.

By increasing asset size, improving profitability, and increasing capacity for future growth, the acquirer will be positioned to realize a significant expansion in its trading multiples.  It is important to see the forest for the trees.  A certain segment of your investor base that is more focused on short-term results may object to a deal that appears to have a higher TBV payback period.  However, the right acquisition will have an outsized impact on your size, quantity of earnings, and perhaps most importantly, the quality of earnings, changing your balance sheets and growth prospects. This will eventually push your bank to trade at a premium to other banks from both a multiple-to-earnings and multiple-to-book perspective.

Andrew O’Keefe is the Director of M&A at Invictus.