The Buying and Selling of Banks

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I think I know what’s around the bend…

As we wind down the dog days of summer, I re-read my last eight posts before outlining this week’s piece.  By design, I placed a heavier emphasis on stories that related to building customer relationships and opportunities tied to organic growth rather than multi-national issues and regulatory reform.  To build off these ideas, I thought to share three pieces that address “what’s next” in the United States and Europe.  The first focuses on potential changes overseas; the second, on domestic mergers and acquisitions; to close, I share the thoughts of Wells Fargo’s CEO on the importance of community banks.

(1) “What’s next for the restructuring of Europe’s banks,” a question that parallels many conversations taking place within boardrooms, think tanks, government offices and media rooms across the U.S.  Penned by members of the financial services team at McKinsey, this op-ed shows how Europe’s banks, like their U.S. counterparts, have had to re-evaluate their short and long-term prospects based on stagnant economic conditions.  Many “continue to face pressure from difficult funding conditions, a transition to higher costs of capital, changing regulations and tighter capital requirements.”  The authors make a case that many “need to shed capital-intensive operations and simplify businesses to compete more profitably in fewer market segments.”  All told, this report claims Europe’s banks are “considering the sale of up to 725 business lines across various business segments and geographies.”  If true, this might result in greater numbers of strategic mergers of like-sized banks.  Do you agree that this story sounds eerily familiar to the one playing out here in the States?

(2) Staying closer to home, bankers and advisers alike debate how quickly consolidation will play out in the coming years.  Personally, I see it taking place over a longer period than some might forecast.  To this point, I think I have a friend in Raymond James’ Anthony Polini (their Managing Director of Equity Research).  Anthony shared his perspectives with an audience of CEOs, Chairmen and board members at Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired conference this January.  There, he opined that industry consolidation “is inevitable” as banks come to grips with new regulations, lower growth rates, higher capital/reserve requirements and lower long-term margins/returns.

Earlier this week, he penned a mid-year report that builds on those ideas.  He lays out how “the current slow growth environment fosters M&A as a quicker means for balance sheet growth and to achieve operating efficiencies in this revenue-challenged environment.”  In his team’s estimation, meaningful industry consolidation takes place over the next 5 to 10 years rather than a large wave that occurs over just a few.  This belies his belief that banks are “sold and not bought.”

Using this logic, coupled with an improving (albeit slowly) economy, modestly better asset quality and shades of loan growth, he believes “an M&A target’s view of franchise value will remain above that of potential acquirers. Put another way… expect the disconnect between buyers’ and sellers’ expectations to remain wide but slowly move closer to equilibrium over time.”

(3) Not to be lost amid this consolidation talk is a perspective from John Stumpf, the chairman and chief executive of Wells Fargo, as to why “Community Banks Are Vital to Our Way of Life.”  In his words

“…we need well-managed, well-regulated banks of all sizes—large and small—to meet our nation’s diverse financial needs, and we need public policies that don’t unintentionally damage the very financial ecosystem they should keep healthy. “

He continues that “almost 95% of all U.S. banks are community banks. They provide nearly half of all small loans to U.S. businesses and farms. In one out of five U.S. counties, community banks are the only banking option for local residents and businesses. Many small towns… would have little access to banks, and the services they provide, without our system of community banks.”  Significant words from one of banking’s biggest voices.  Not the first time he’s shared this opinion, and hopefully, not the last.

Aloha Friday!

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