2 Financial Stocks to Buy, 1 to Avoid

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The interest rate environment and loan growth are among the key determinants of the net interest margin of a bank. Due to low interest rates and macroeconomic conditions, 2013 may be a tough year for banking. Enhanced capital regulations resulted in higher regulatory costs, which in turn are pressurizing the banking efficiency ratio. This growing regulatory cost has more impact on smaller banks' margins as compared to mega banks. However, some smaller regional banks have managed their expenses efficiently, leading me to believe that they will outperform in 2013.

Expense management is a part of Regions' culture

For the first quarter ended march 2013, Regions Financial (NYSE: RF) reported a net income of $327 million, or earnings per share of $0.23. Net interest income was $798 million, down 2% from last year due to decrease in earnings assets while non interest income was $501 million. In the previous quarter, total funding cost improved to 45 bps, down from 20 bps year ago. Due to ongoing efforts to manage expenses, non-interest expense fell 8% over the previous quarter.

In the previous quarter, mortgage income decreased 20% compared to the linked quarter, but indirect auto loan balances demonstrated progress, as they were up 6% from the prior quarter. Despite a decline in mortgage banking activity, the bank benefited from a further decline in its cost of funds, coupled with growth in low cost deposits. The low-cost deposits grew $375 million, whereas the deposit cost plunged 4 bps over the prior quarter. The bank enhanced its Tier 1 capital ratio by 30 bps, reaching 12.3%, and the Tier 1 common ratio improved 40 bps to 11.2%.

Regions expects a surge in funding costs due to changes in interest rates, which could lead to a contraction in its margin. Strong loan growth and lower cost of funds will be the positive stock price drivers for the future.

SunTrust needs to improve its deposits and mortgage segment

SunTrust Banks (NYSE: STI) was recently upgraded to outperform by some of the analysts covering the stock.

In the first quarter of 2013, SunTrust reported earnings per share of $0.63, compared to $0.46 a year ago. A net income of $340 million came in 2.9% above the prior quarter’s net income. Better expense management led to 10% reduction of non-interest expense over the previous quarter.

The bank reported a mortgage production income of $159 million, compared to $241 million for the previous quarter. As a result of low mortgage production income, non-interest income of the bank plunged. However, it was partially offset by an upward trend in commercial and industrial loans.

The bank reported Tier 1 capital and Tier 1 common ratio of 11.20% and 10.10%, respectively, above the current regulatory requirement. Besides better expense management, SunTrust needs to focus on improving its mortgage and loan growth, particularly when the U.S. housing markets are showing signs of a rebound. Going forward, its management expects a rise in mortgage banking and investment banking.

Industrial & commercial loan growth a driver

PNC Financial Services (NYSE: PNC) is the sixth-largest regional bank by assets and deposits in the U.S. PNC Financial derives substantial revenue from retail banking and corporate and industrial banking. The bank reported earnings per share of $1.76 at the end of the first quarter of 2013 and revenue of $4.1 billion, up 6% y/y. Due to abridged funding cost and organic loan growth, net interest income grew 4% y/y. Non-interest income surged 9% year over a year to $1.6 billion while non-interest income dropped 2% y/y to $2.4 billion in the first quarter. PNC increased the quarterly dividend on common stock to $0.44 per share.

In 2011, PNC purchased the retail operations of Royal Bank of Canada, which had a positive impact on PNC’s net interest income. PNC is expecting growth in industrial and commercial loans. The bank’s acquisition of RBC Bank (USA) and dividend growth are positive stock price drivers.

Conclusion

Better expense management should be a driver for the aforementioned three banks, but macroeconomic conditions will affect their performance. By comparing these three banks, I believe Regions Financial and PNC Financial would be better investment opportunities. SunTrust needs to improve its deposits growth and mortgage banking segment to stay in the game. For PNC, increase in demand for loans from the industrial and commercial sectors will possibly propel its earnings higher.

The big banks may be rushing to renew their focus on traditional banking, but well-run regional banks like PNC Financial are already there. PNC saw its share of hardships during the financial meltdown, but its management team thinks the bank is now back on track and ready to deliver for investors. Does this mean it's time to buy PNC? To help you figure that out, one of The Motley Fool's top banking analysts has authored a brand-new premium research report, delving into everything investors need to know about PNC today. To claim your copy, simply click here now for instant access.


Red Chip has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of PNC Financial Services. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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