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My investing philosophy mostly centers around the Value discipline and GARP- Growth at a Reasonable Price. This blog includes commentary on market conditions as well as fundamental analysis of specific companies. Graduated from Rhodes College with a degree in Business with concentration in Finance & Marketing. Currently working on obtaining the CFA designation. Previously worked in Mortgage Trading for a major bank. Use MS Excel extensively for developing investment models, notably valuation models based on DCF methods.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Regions Financial (RF): Due for a Bounce?

Regions Financial (nyse:RF) has plummeted to $11.40 from its July 2007 levels of $32. For most of 2008, RF traded in the $18-22 range, but since May, RF has been on a pronounced downtrend. It’s also important to note, that the regional banking group as a whole, has been extremely weak for the past several weeks. Regions fell 7.4% on Tuesday, June 17th, and then fell 10.4% on Wednesday. In the last 30 days, RF has plummeted 45%. Also under pressure are Suntrust (STI), Key Corp (KEY), Fifth Third (FITB), BB&T (BBT), and Wachovia (WB). Looking at the table, most of the 3 & 6 month cumulative losses occurred just in the last month.

The obvious question- is the selling overdone? Regions may be due for a bounce. The two key possibilities that must be examined are 1) Has indiscriminate selling of the regional bank industry unfairly punished RF shares? 2) Does the market know that disappointing news from RF is imminent- or consensus EPS estimate revisions?

Regarding the first possibility- if shares have been unfairly crushed, then answer is simple: RF should be bought. In order to ascertain if RF’s situation differs from the rest of its peers, the second possibility needs to be examined.

It’s tough to predict negative news announcements and earnings misses. However, it’s rather apparent that investors have been pricing in these events. Thus, the balance of risks appears favorable. If earnings come in below the consensus, or if the dividend is cut etc., it’s likely that much, if not all, are already reflected in the share price. Therefore, disappointing news wouldn’t adversely affect RF’s stock price. If news turns out to be better than expected, then RF should rally. Hence, the potential upside exceeds the risk to the downside; this creates a favorable risk-return tradeoff

Asset Quality:
Regions Financial doesn’t have any sub-prime exposure. It did have a sub-prime origination business- EquiFirst, but those mortgages were sold servicing-released and not retained on the books. Regions sold EquiFirst to Barclays back in 2007. In addition, Regions isn’t exposed to non-traditional mortgages such as option ARMs or loans with teaser rates. Regions primary concern is its $11.5 billion construction loan portfolio with $447 million in non-performing loans. Regions hasn’t had to take any major write-downs, and earnings have held up in the past several quarters relative to peers.

Earnings Expectations:
Analysts are forecasting EPS of 48 cents for the June quarter, which is down from 54 cents 90 days ago. For FY08, the consensus estimate is $1.95, down from $2.14 three months ago, but has been steady for the past month. Regions is trading 5.8x this year’s EPS estimate. This is quite low given RF’s 12.8x 5-year average and industry average of 13.5x. This might suggest that investors expect Regions to earn half of the current consensus, or 97 cents for FY08.

The trailing 12m dividend is $1.50, a yield of 13.2%. The stock price definitely reflects a cut or elimination. A 5% dividend yield at the current share price would be 57 cents. Assuming a 60% payout ratio, EPS would need to total at least 95 cents over the next 4 quarters.

It appears that analysts haven’t revised RF estimates down to reflect current market expectations. Why do investors think estimates are too high? It’s likely concerns center on Regions construction lending portfolio as it has been deteriorating. 3.5B of the 6.2B residential homebuilder segment consists of vacant lot and land, which could experience high losses. Regions management states that they are moving aggressively to manage losses in this portfolio.

Regions recorded a loan loss provision of 181 million for 1Q08, down from 358 million in 4Q07. It’s likely that Q2’s provision will have to return to at least 400 million. Even so, RF has been reducing costs through last year’s merger with AmSouth. In the march quarter, merger cost saves totaled 127 million, and management expects total cost saves of 700 million by year-end 2008. In addition, Regions Financial also owns Morgan Keegan, a strong brokerage firm, which will help diversify revenue streams during this downturn.

Short Interest:
RF’s short interest surged 13.1 million shares (27%) during the last period reported (May 15-30). This represents about 9% of the outstanding share float with cover ratio of 6.3 days. Since the last report, short interest has likely increased further given the declining share price. Short interest represents future share demand as shorts must buy shares to cover their positions.

Option investors are betting on further share declines in RF shares. On Wednesday, trading in Regions Financial's options surges to eight times the normal daily volume, as investors bought 48,000 puts and 8,000 calls. Activity was heavy in the July $10 puts, trading at 95 cents and will be in the money if RF slides below $9.05 before July 18.

It’s quite evident that investors are negative on RF. This positive aspect is that weak sellers are folding there hands and negative expectations are being priced-in. With so many investors negative, the supply of sellers begins to dry up, as the supply of future buyers increases. If future developments are not a dire as expected, then RF should see a nice bounce as short-sellers scramble to cover positions.

Capital ratios are decent- Tier 1 capital ratio is 7.3% and Total capital ratio is 11.1%. These are well above the minimum requirements of 4% and 8%. Regions book value / share is $28.82 resulting in a P/BV of 0.4x.

Thus, the selling of RF shares has been warranted, but has it been overdone? Or, is there more selling to come? Regions revenue streams are diversified with its banking, brokerage, and insurance businesses. Regions is also aggressively improving its cost structure through its merger cost reduction plan. The combination of these factors should help offset, to a degree, future write-downs and loan losses. RF has adequate capital ratios, thus I don’t foresee a major equity capital raising.

I believe current share prices can withstand a 50% reduction to earnings and the dividend, as these possibilities are priced-in. Thus, I think, with a considerable amount of negative news already discounted, there is significant upside potential. Hence, the balance of risks is favorable possibly making RF due for a bounce.


Anonymous said...

Come back Alchemist! Your witty financial insights are desperately missed in the blogsphere. I hope God is still making days for you.

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