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Posts from the ‘Community Bankers Trust (BTC)’ Category

Falling NIMs, Rising Mortgage Banking and two new bank stocks: Monarch Financial and PVF Capital Corp

One consequence of the quantitative easing campaign that was initiated by the Federal Reserve is that is caused a rise in mortgage backed securities, and a corresponding drop in interest rates for those securities.  To illustrate, below is the 30 year Fannie Mae.

This drop in rates is bad for holders of MBS debt who depend on the yield that it returns.  As a consequence many mREITs have been under pressure.

To varying degrees banks are in same boat.  You saw this with the release of results on Friday from JP Morgan and Wells Fargo.  The subject was discussed here in the Financial Times.

But I think you have to be careful before painting all banks with a broad brush.  The extent of the damage depends on the percentage of assets that each bank has in securities in general and in mortgage backed securities in particular.  This can vary quite a bit, especially among the smaller community banks.

I have looked at each of the banks I own.  Most are not overly exposed to mortgage backed securities or to securities in general.  The table below shows the total investment security exposure vs. loan exposure for each bank, and then breaks down the investment securities by type. Read more

Three Community Banks worth keeping an eye on: Part I

For those of you new to this blog, I have been investing in community banks since early 2011.  I described my foray into the sector in this post,  almost a year ago today.  To reiterate:

I got introduced to the idea of buying regional banks stocks about 6 months ago.  Two separate catalysts piqued my interest in the idea:

  1. Last summer I read the David Einhorn book, “You Can Fool Some of the People All of the Time”.  In that book, which is about a fraudulent business development company called Allied Capital, Einhorn spends a chapter outlining his investment philosophies.  One of the ideas he puts forth is investing in mutual holding companies.   Seth Klaman has been another proponent of investing in MHC’s.
  2. Tim Melvin’s trade of the decade.  Melvin, a fairly well known value investor, believes that the small regional bank stocks have been beaten up well beyond what is justified and that their recovery represents the trade of the decade.

I’ve had some good luck investing in community banks over the last year.   Some have turned out extremely well (Rurban Financial (RBNF) and Community Bankers Trust (BTC) have been more than doubles).  Others have been less prolific (Oneida Financial (ONFC),  Home Federal Bancorp of Louisiana (HFBL), Shore Bancshares (SHBI), Atlantic Coast Financial (ACFC)) but generally I have gotten out of with either a small loss or a small gain.  One of my biggest mistakes has been a lack of patience; indeed if I had held onto Oneida and Home Federal, I would have seen 20% gains from my purchases last year.

Community banks are simple businesses.  It makes them easy to compare and evaluate, and relatively straightforward to project into the future.  A community bank income statement generally looks like this:

Banks earn interest on the loans they make and the securities they buy.  The extent to which the interest earned exceeds the interest paid on funding (for community banks the vast majority of funding is deposits) is the banks margin, called the net interest margin.  With only a few other wrinkles, such as revenues received from originating and servicing mortgages, or in some cases from running insurance or investment wings, the degree to which the net interest margin exceeds the expenses associated with running a bank (called non-interest expense) is the profit of the bank.

How I’ve made money on the banks

There are plenty of solid banking franchises  trading at reasonably cheap prices.  You can probably make 10-15% per year by buying well run banks with low levels of nonperforming assets and reasonable return on assets and equity, and socking them away.

This was how I started with my own banking investments.  The first three banks I bought were Oritani Financial Corp (ORIT) Oneida Financial (ONFC), Home Federal Bancorp of Louisiana (HFBL).  Each is a solid franchise, each has a low level of loan losses, and each trades at or near tangible book value with decent returns on assets and equity.  I’m sure each will continue to go higher over the long run.

But I am always in the pursuit of the best returns and those are usually found a little further up the risk ladder.   One of the basic premises of my investing strategy is that while the price of risk is ultimately assigned by the market, the perceived quantity of risk involved varies, and can be reduced by research, critical thinking and sweat.

Going further up the risk ladder meant looking at banks that most investors would shun.  I studied the banks that had been hit the hardest by the financial crisis.  While a bank with non-performing loans above 3% is generally considered of questionable quality, I started looking at banks with 8-10% non-performing assets.  While banks with return on assets of 1% and return on equity of 10% might be thought to be worth considering, I looked at banks with negative returns, shrinking assets and dwindling equity.

This tact has proven to be fruitful.  Three stocks that I have bought have resulted in above average returns.  Two of them, Rurban Financial (RBNF) and Community Bankers Trust (BTC) have been in the neighborhood of a double so far.  The third, Bank of Commerce Holdings (BOCH) returned a quick 30% before I took the position off, though I am looking at adding it back at the right level.

My one regret has been not to have taken more positions in banks.  To give a couple of examples of banks I looked at but just couldn’t get comfortable with, First Financial Northwest (FFNW) has doubled from $4 to $8 in the last year and a half, while Heartland Financial (HTLF) has nearly doubled since last fall.

But even with some of the moves we’ve seen I think there is still more to come.  As the economy recovers banks should see improvements to their loan book and strengthening margins on the securities they buy.  And I continue to believe that the banks most likely to outperform will be those that were hit hard during the recession but that managed to survive.

3 Banks I’m Looking at

I have my eye on a number of banks that meet these criteria.   There are 3 in particular that I have been looking at this weekend.  While I am not quite ready to pull the trigger on any of the three, I am getting close, and I think the ultimate upside once they work through their books of problem loans is a multiple of the current share price.  I am going to look at each one individually in the upcoming 3 posts.

  1. Shore Bancshares (SHBI)
  2. Premierwest Bancorp (PRWT)
  3. United Community Bancorp (UCBI)

Next up will be a post on Shore Bancshares shortly.

Regional bank earnings round-up

Over the course of last week four of the five regional banks in my portfolio reported first quarter earnings.  Since that time I have been busy reviewing those earnings and drawing conclusions on whether the stocks should remain owned, or be punted out for other opportunities.  Below I will go through my analysis and thoughts on each of these banks.

Rurban Financial (Ticker: RBNF)

Rurban Financial reported earnings last Tuesday.  Rurban does not have a particularly troubling loan book, and while they do have some non-banking related problems (such a legacy data processing business that does not appear to be doing very well) they are mostly set to generate strong earnings going forward.  So when I look at Rurban’s results, I focus on what they were able to earn.

Earnings per share came in at 20 cents.  Because Rurban has a  large mortgage servicing portfolio they are subject to big swings in earnings due to the GAAP valuation adjustments that they have to take on their portfolio of mortgage servicing rights.  While these adjustments are GAAP requirements, they tell us nothing about the business and tend to obscure the true earnings of the business.  Thus, I like to look at a “core” earnings number that eliminates the valuation adjustments as well as any other one time charges and the loan loss provisions.  Core earnings came in at 19 cents.  Core earnings for the past 5 quarters are shown below:

I’m not too worried about the decline in earnings quarter over quarter because a lot of it is seasonal.  Rurban sold a lot less mortgages in Q1 2012 than it did in Q4 2011 and that is just the seasonal nature of that business.  For some reason a lot of markets in the US experience high mortgage demand in Q4, and low demand in Q1.  In most Canadian markets it is the opposite of that, with Q4 being the slowest of the four quarters.

Another contributor to lower earnings was reduced revenues from the RDSI data processing subsidiary.  RDSI provides data processing services for banks across the Midwest. RDSI lost $1.4M in 2011 and doesn’t appear to be doing any better in 2012.  Its a strange situation because the big cause of the loss in Q1 were writedowns related to Rurban’s own bank deciding not to use RDSI for their banking related data processing needs.  Clearly they are cutting ties (winding down?) and maybe that will be for the best in the long run.  Below are revenues from RDSI less intercompany over the last 5 quarters.  Its become small enough that going forward it should cease to be the drag on earnings that it has been.  And that’s a good thing.

Mortgage revenue at Rurban continued to be strong; Rurban generated $1.2M in origination volumes in Q1 versus $420K in the same quarter last year.   As I already mentioned originations are always down in Q1 versus Q4, so that number was a decline from $1.5M in the previous quarter.   The year over year growth in origination led to further growth in their servicing business, which was up by another $20MM in terms of unpaid balance sequentially.  Nonaccrual assets continue to fall, down to $6.5M from $8M in the fourth quarter of last year.  And the company continues to rein in cost, witness by another drop in non-interest expense.   Negatives for the quarter were pretty much the same as those I saw elsewhere in the banking sector.  They are getting squeezed on interest margins (down from 4.07% to 3.64%), and loan growth was pretty flat quarter on quarter.

Overall Rurban announced pretty solid results and they are continuing to move towards their potential $1 per share of earnings.  There is still work to be been, ROA remained poor at 0.60%, but that is why the stock trades at only 2/3 of book value, and why the opportunity for further price appreciation remains.  I have been very happy to see the shares move up as they have over the last week.

Shore Bancshares (Ticker: SHBI)

Shore had a tough quarter.  While I had been hoping  that the company’s loan book was on the mend, the first quarter results showed that there is still some work to be done.

The loan book deteriorated over the quarter.  The company had to put aside provisions for credit losses of $8.4M, which was way up from $4M in Q4 and $6.4M in Q1 2011. Nonperforming assets rose to 8.1%.  I had been hoping that nonperforming assets had peaked in Q3 and would continue to roll over in Q1.  Unfortunately not.

The company said that the rise in nonperforming loans resulted mainly from one relationship. 50% of the $9.1M in charge-offs were related to a single large real estate borrower.

If you can get past the loan book (and I wish they could get past their loan book), there were some positives for the quarter.  While deposits increased 4.2% on a year-over-year basis and, notably, core noninterest-bearing deposits were up 17.4% year-over-year, so the company’s borrowing base continues to move towards lower cost loans.

If you look at Shore’s eventual earnings poential, if they could stop taking massive writedowns every quarter, it remains strong.  Earnings ignoring the provisions were $0.39 per share.  Over the previous twleve months Shore has put together earnings of $1.50 per share if you ex out the loan losses.  So the potential is certainly there.  Unfortunately loan book stabilization appears to be a bit further off then I had anticipated.

I’m not sure what to do with Shore.  I am tempted to cut it and run.  I originally got the idea from Tim Melvin of Real Money.   He described the investment as a 5 year hold and a 3 to 5 bagger.  Given that the bank trades at about 1/2 of tangible book value and that it used to be a $25 stock before the collapse of 2008, and you can see where he is coming from.  However I am not quite as patient as Mr Melvin.  I like stories that are in the process of turning it around, not just with the potential to turn things around at some point.  I haven’t sold out of the stock yet, but I have an itchy trigger finger.

Community Bankers Trust (Ticker: BTC)

BTC’s earnings are always obscured by the effect of the indemnification asset that the company carries as a result of an agreement to take over a failing bank, SFSB, back in 2009.  The indemnification asset is an accounting tool that accounts for the FDIC guarantee that BTC received when they took over the SFSB loan portfolio.  Unfortunately, the accounting of the asset it such that when there is better than expected performance in the SFSB portfolio, the company has to amortize the indemnification asset on their income statement.  The size of these amortizations is extremely large relative to earnings.  In Q1 the amortization was $1.9M versus net income of $0.9M.

I always ex-out the effect of the indemnification asset when I look at BTC’s earnings.  The asset says nothing about their cash generation and earnings ability.  In fact it actually works in reverse to that underlying ability.

Ignoring the indemnification asset and a few other small one time gains and losses, BTC earned 13 cents in the quarter.  On this core earnings metric BTC has earned 52 cents over the prior twleve month, which means it remains an incredibly cheap stock trading at a little over 4x earnings.  Looking at the same sort of “core” earnings number that I did for Rurban, you can see that the bank is consistently been pulling in 10-15 cents of earnings a quarter for the last 4 quarters.

BTC has done an excellent job of pulling itself back from the brink of bad loan losses, and this continued in Q1.  Nonperforming loans on its non-covered portfolio (non-covered refers to loans not covered by the FDIC loss sharing agreement) decreased 13% or $4M quarter over quarter.  Nonperforming assets have fallen from a high of 9.7% of total assets in the second quarter of last year to 6.9% of assets in the most recent quarter.

Meanwhile the company grew its loan book marginally in Q1, which is traditionally a slow time of the year for loan growth for the company and a quarter where their loan book shrank last year.   It is also interesting to note that unlike most of their competitors, BTC managed to maintain a flat net interest margin in the quarter, at 4%.

I really like the turnaround that is taking place at BTC.  Having bought the stock at a little over a $1, I am sitting on a double already.  Yet I have no plans to sell.  BTC was a $3.50 stock as recently as the beginning of 2010 and was a $7 stock before the financial crisis hit in 2008.  I don’t see any reason why they can’t return to a level somewhere between those two numbers.

Bank of Commerce Holdings (Ticker: BOCH)

I learned about Bank of Commerce Holdings from a BNN Market Call with Benj Gallander, the Contrarian Investor guy.  He had BOCH as a top pick and I was looking for regional banks at the time so I took a look at the stock and bought some at $3.25.  Watching Market Call is a hit and miss time investment, you can sit there and watch episode after episode and get nothing out of it, but every once in a while there will be a gem.  BOCH was one of those gems.

Bank of Commerce Holdings is steady as she goes.  I’m not quite sure how they have done it, but BOCH has managed to keep nonperforming assets at reasonable levels (2.45% in Q1 which was down from 2.68% in Q4 2011) while operating in one of the hardest hit real estate markets (Sacramento).  To be fair they also operate in a second market, Redding California, which didn’t have quite as bad of a housing decline.

The company has been consistently reporting return on assets (ROA) of 1% and return on equity (ROE) of 8-9% for the last 3 quarters.

Much like Rurban, the first quarter seasonally has lower mortgage banking revenues than does the fourth quarter so I am not concerned about the decline in ROE and ROA sequentially.  Mortgage banking is a big part of Bank of Commerce Holdings banking business so they are subject to these seasonal effects.  What is more relevant is the trend in mortgage banking revenues.  They have climbed substantially from $2.5M in Q1 2011 to $5M in Q1 2012.

Bank of Commerce Holdings earned 35 cents per share in 2011 and 31 cents per share in 2010.  I would expect them to earn over 40 cents per share in 2012.  BOCH is not going to be a shooting star type of a performer.  Its not going to double in a year.  But the company is consistently profitable and consistently adding to shareholder value.  There is also the chance for them to raise ROE above 10% and ROA above 1% by increasing their operational efficiencies.  I hope to see this occur over the next year as the economy improves and opportunities present themselves.   I think it is reasonable to expect the stock to trade to the $5.50 range by the end of 2012.  That is good enough for me.

Community Bankers Trust: As good as it gets?

Ever since Community Bankers Trust (BTC) announced that they were repaying the dividend on their TARP preferred , the stock has gone into the stratosphere.  Its now become a double since my initial purchase.

What I want to do in this post is look at whether this move to the upside is all I should really expect, or whether this is the beginning of a larger, longer term move.  The question is: Do I have a two-bagger here, or a potential five bagger.

A little history on the company

I bought Community Bankers Trust (BTC) as a turnaround story.  They are a bank that has been trying to reincarnate itself after the first incarnation came close to an early death. My observation is that they have been successfully navigating this resurrection, and with the recent turn in profitability (and a helpful turn in the economy) the bank is on its way to realizing its earnings potential.

How did they get to here?

The original growth strategy was, as far as I can tell, to buy other banks and get bigger.  Witness, the name of the original company was called Community Bankers Acquisition Corporation  (CBAC).  They weren’t exactly being subtle.  Along with the acquisition strategy, the bank seemed to have a “worry about the profitability later” strategy.  This may have worked ok if the economy continued to grow as it had in the early part of the decade but it fell flat along with the economy in 2008.

As best as I can discern the acquisition effort was spearheaded by Gary Simanson. He headed up the original company CBAC, and then moved into a position of Strategic Vice President, a position I don’t think I’ve ever heard of with any other company. According to this article, Simanson was responsible for subsequent acquisitions.

In truth, the timing was what killed the acquisition strategy.  To quickly step through the timeline, in May 2008 the company began its journey by acquiring two local Virginia banks, TransCommunity Financial Corporation, , and BOE Financial Services of Virginia, Inc.  In November the bank moved ahead and acquired The Community Bank, which was a little bank in Georgia.  Finally in January 2009 they acquired Suburban Federal Savings Bank, Crofton, Maryland.

So you had 4 bank acquisitions in less than a year happening at the time of a 100 year financial tsunami.  How do you think things turned out?

Change in Direction

By 2010 Simanson had left the company and the direction of the company was changed to the more pragmatic “we need to get profitable before we go belly up” strategy.

This was described pretty bluntly in the 2010 second quarter report. CEO Gary Longest said at the time:

Our strategy has shifted from that of an aggressive acquisition platform, to one that meets the banking needs of the communities we serve, while providing sustainable returns to our stockholders. To this end, we are taking the necessary steps to return immediately to profitability. We are actively analyzing our market base to assess the contributions of all branches to our franchise value and will take the appropriate actions in the third quarter of this year. Additionally, we will make aggressive expense reductions, and will look to restructure and strengthen the balance sheet. We are confident that the analysis of these potential critical paths and the resulting execution of these initiatives will lead us back to profitability quickly.” “Our goal is an immediate return to consistent quarterly profits. To accomplish this, we have no alternative as a Company but to make clear and intelligent decisions in the next 60 days, no matter how difficult, to accomplish that goal as soon as possible. That is our full focus.”

In a somewhat odd twist to which I’m sure there is a good story, Longest himself was gone only a couple months later. Nevertheless the interim CEO and soon to be permanent CEO Rex L. Smith took up the reins and has carried out the strategy quite well given the circumstances.

Why the TARP payment matters?

As the chart I posted at the start showed, the stock had been trending up for a couple of months but it was really the news of the TARP payment that has sent the shares to another level.

The amounts involved in the TARP dividend are fairly inconsequential.  The accumulated payment is around $1.5 million.  The deferred payments on the trust preferred capital notes looks to be significantly less.

What is consequential is that the regulators are putting their stamp of approval on the bank and giving it a clean bill of health.  What is also consequential is that with the TARP funds being paid the company is setting itself back up towards the eventual issuance of a common dividend.

Where are they now?

Community Bankers Trust has done a lot to lower costs since the clean-up in Q2 2010.  First, they have brought down the interest costs of their deposit base.  Time deposits, which are expensive high interest bearing deposits, have decreased from 73% to 67% of total deposits since the end of 2009.  As well, the cost of the time deposits has come down from 2.9% in 2009 to 1.6% in the third quarter.

The effect has been a step change in net interest margin (NIM) since the strategic direction change in 2010 (note that this graph is a simplified version of NIM calculated as a percentage of all assets rather than the more common formulation of interest bearing assets).

The company also undertook efforts to reduce operating expenses.  The Effiency ratio, which is simply the ratio of the total non-interest expenses at the bank (so the salaries, building costs, lawyer fees, pretty much everything except the actual cost of borrowing money) to the  net interest margin (so the amount of interest made minus the amount of interest paid), has fallen to a low level.

Two ways of valuing the company

First lets look at earnings.  The chart below shows proforma quarterly earnings for the last couple of years.  The proforma number strips out the provision for loan losses, the FDIC intangibles, losses on real estate and gains of the sale of securities.  So basically I looked at the banking skeleton that is BTC.

The bank has consistently been pulling in more than 10 cents per share for the last 3 quarters.  While the numbers ignore the rather large loan losses that the company has had to take, they make the point that once the bad loan book is worked through, the bank has significant potential for earnings.

Now lets look at book value.  I’m going to take this straight from the company’s fourth quarter report.  The bank sports a tangible book value that is much greater than the current share price even after it has double from $1 to $2:

How about the legacy loans?

The remaining negative for the bank is that it still has an extremely elevated portfolio of non-performing loans.  However there are signs that this is abating; the fourth quarter showed more progress in bringing down nonperforming assets.   The bet with Community Bankers Trust remains what it was: the US economy is turning the corner, the Fed is not going to allow it to fall into another recession, and so the worst of the loan defaults are behind us.

To put these numbers in perspective, typically you wouldn’t want a bank to have non-performing loans in excess of a couple of percent.  Many of the best banks I’ve looked at have nonperforming loans of well less than 1%.  BTC, onthe other hand…

So can it go higher?

The question I set out to answer is whether I think the bank can continue to move higher.  A double is great, especially when it happens this quickly, but keep in mind before the summer of 2008 this used to be a $7 stock.  Based on what I have laid out above, I think you can make a strong case that it could go higher.  Things have to go right to be sure, but if they do the earnings and the assets are there.

Bottom line: I’m not selling.

Community Bankers Trust pays back TARP Preferred

On Friday Community Bankers Trust announced that they would pay back the dividend that they owed on the preferred shares they issued in relation to getting into the TARP program a few years ago.  They had been deliquent of the past 6 payments on the preferred.  The stock shot up a rather surprising 23% on Friday after the news.  The company said:

“We are pleased to have the ability to begin making our TARP payments again, and to bring all interest payments on our trust preferred securities current at the same time. It shows the excellent progress that the Company continues to make, as well as the close relationship that we have with our regulators to actively address every supervisory issue regarding our safety and soundness. We believe that this is the first step towards more substantive relief under our written agreement and definitely the path to fulfill our TARP obligations. We will continue our efforts towards reducing non-performing loans and increasing profitability to ensure success. At this point, our trends certainly point in the right direction.”

I have to admit I was a little surprised by the move in the stock.  I’m not sure I understand the significance of the announcement.  I mean, it was inevitable right?  The company was stabilizing the business and was getting past the worst of the nonperforming book.  I really thought that the market had seen this coming and had it already priced in.  Apparently not.

Letter 31: Bank earnings and more bank earnings, lightening up on gold stocks (again) and a soon to come Canaco Magambazi resource

Portfolio Performance:

Portfolio Composition:

Waiting on Magambazi…

I have been working most of the week on an evaluation of Canaco’s Magambazi deposit in Tanzania. I was hoping to be finished the work by today but its carrying on and I don’t have a lot of time to finish it today (what with the superbowl and all) so this will be a rather short update, but with a longer, hopefully rigorous analysis of the Magambazi deposit will follow shortly tomorrow or the next day.

Outperformance of the US

Now that is something that I haven’t said in a few years.

While it was another good week for the S&P and a decent week for my portfolio it was not a great week for the TSX.  Again.  This is becoming a pattern.  Its striking how badly the TSX is underperforming so far this year.  The S&P is up almost 6%, the TSX is up hardly at all.

I have tried to increase my positions in the US-sensitive stocks I own to take advantage of this American out-performance with a particular emphasis on leverage to the mortgage industry.  Most recently, in the last week I added to my positions in Community Bankers Trust, PHH Corporation and I introduced a new position in Rurban Financial Corp.

Rurban Financial Corp

Rurban was  recommended in a comment (by Robert) to my post last week.  I did a quick look at the company, which released 4th quarter earnings on Monday, and they do indeed look cheap.  And while I haven’t had a chance to take a close look at their prospects, I’d liked what I saw on the surface, so I bought a small starter position.

The company produced earnings ex a one time merger charge and ex OREO losses of 23 cents per share in the 4th quarter.

Now I admit I have not dug into Rurban to the point that I need to (this Canaco resource estimate has been all consuming of my spare time).  I plan to do that in the next week.  I’d like to put together a comparison of Rurban and Community Bankers Trust and perhaps Bank of Commerce Holdings (both of which I will touch on below) side by side to better evaluate Robert’s legitimate skepticism in BTC.

Community Bankers Trust 4th Quarter Earnings

And speak of the devil, they released 4th quarter earnings on Tuesday.  I thought the numbers looked pretty good. The quarter was summed up by the following statement from CEO Rex L. Smith III:

“Our goals for 2011 were to make major improvements in our problem assets and to rebuild the fundamentals of the core bank, and I am pleased to report that we accomplished our goals. Both nonaccrual loans and net charge-offs saw continual and substantial declines throughout the year. At year-end our ratio of nonperforming assets to loans and other real estate was at its lowest level since the first quarter of 2010. Additionally, the fourth quarter showed a strong increase in new loan production in our targeted growth areas. All of this occurred while we lowered noninterest expense for the year by 21%.

Let’s step through some of the key metrics and update the graphs I showed last week with the 4th quarter numbers.

Pro-forma earnings (that is earnings before the FDIC amortization and before any one time hits to investments and real estate owned) were strong in the fourth quarter, coming in at 14 cents per share.  Again I think the bank has a lot of earnings power going forward once (if) it is able to bury its past misdeeds.

Equally important, nonperforming loans were down again in Q4.

The only negative I saw for the quarter was something I have seen a lot of with the banks reporting fourth quarter results thus far.  Net interest margin is on its way down.

Banks are struggling with the headwind of low interest rates.  Basically,  purchasing non-risky securities (ie. Treasuries and government backed MBS) means accepting extremely low returns.  As older securities mature and roll off the books they are being replaced by low yielding new securities.  Of course this is exactly what Bernanke is looking for to try to get the banks lending again.  That seems to be working in the case of BTC, as loans originated was up in Q4.

Bank of Commerce Holdings 4th Quarter Earnings

I wrote a short piece ofter my purchase of Bank of Commerce Holdings about two months ago.  Since that time the stock has risen about 15%, so its been an okay purchase but nothing exceptional.

I have yet to really evaluate the stock in the kind of depth I need to.  I hope to get to that in the next week.  In the mean time I have been compiling the basic statistics to do that evaluation.  The company came out with another data point on Tuesday when they released their 4th quarter earnings.  I would call it a mixed bag.  On the bright side the company showed another strong earnings per share number when you ex-out the one time hits, and ROE and ROA also showed strength on a proforma basis.

Note that my estimates of ROE and ROA exclude provisions from loan losses, losses on real estate owned and one time investment gains so they are somewhat higher than the posted numbers in the news release.

On the negative side the company struggled in much the same way as Community Bankers, posting a lower Net Interest Margin quarter over quarter.

Perhaps more worrying is that nonperforming loans are rising.

I’m not sure about Bank of Commerce Holdings.  I don’t have a large position in the stock.  I don’t love where the bank is based (around Sacramento California) and I don’t like how non-performing loans are rising at all. As CalculatedRisk pointed out recently, there aren’t any signs of things improving in Sacramento yet.

The percent of distressed sales in Sacramento was unchanged in November compared to October. In November 2011, 64.1% of all resales (single family homes and condos) were distressed sales. This was down slightly from 66.1% in November 2010.

I’m going to evaluate it closely and turf it if I don’t see a strong story being written that will lead the company back to the $6+ level.

I need to understand gold better

Early in the week the gold stocks and the bullion looked to be breaking out together and there was a hope (at least in my mind) that it was for real.  Then the Friday employment number came out and presumably frightened everyone about the prospects of inflation and the gold price dropped 1.8%.  Some of the gold stocks got hit much harder.  I’m not willing to find out if this is a blip or another true correction; I reduced my trading positions in Aurizon, Canaco, and OceanaGold (though as you will note at the end of the post with respect to my weekly practice account trades, I mistakenly bought rather than sold OGC.  This is something I will have to rectify on Monday).

What I need to do to gain some lasting confidence in my gold stock position is gain a better understanding of the supply/demand dynamic right now.  I’m flailing a bit here and I’m fully aware of it.  But there are a number of headwinds happening here that I don’t want to ignore:

  1. The lack of Indian demand brought on by the strong rupee
  2. An improving US economy will mean higher interest rates eventually
  3. The ETF has become such a big part of demand and I wonder how much of those holders are “weak hands”

The problem is that while I believe in gold in the long term, I also know that a lot can happen in the interim.  Rick Rule was pointing out a few months ago how in the 70′s and early 80′s, when gold rallied from $35 to over $800, it also had a number of corrections, including one of over 50%.

My lack of clarity in understanding just what is driving gold at the moment (and whether in the short term, particularly given that the seasonality effect is about to turn against the metal, it remains sustainable or not) is leading me to these short term in’s and out’s with OceanaGold and to a lessor extent Aurizon.  Gaining back some clarity, and with it hopefully some more certainty in my decisions, is another endeavour I hope to accomplish in the next week.

Speaking more company specifically, Atna remains the strangest bird of the bunch in the gold stock sphere.  It consistently outperforms (even goes up) on days when other gold stocks are going down and then does nothing (or goes down) when all the other gold stocks are up.  I don’t understand the stock for a second, though I am happy that the trend in the stock is, to borrow the phrase from Dennis Gartman, from the lower left to the upper right.

My soon to be complete Canaco Magambazi Estimate

In a next day or so I will be posting my interpretation of the resource estimate at Mogambazi.  I basically have went through the deposit, cross-section by cross-section, and evaluated the resource using a rough block model.  I thought it would be a fun project, and it has been, but its also been a lot of work.  My tools consistent of Visio, Excel and the screen capture tool snip-it, and my main resource to educate myself has been google, so its been a bit of a process.  Still, I’ve learned a lot and have become developed a better understanding of what Magambazi is (both the good and the bad) which I think will allow me to act prudently on it in the future.

So stay tuned for that.

Weekly Trades

Week 30: Cognitive Dissonance, Canaco updates, Canadian house prices and the story of Community Bankers Trust

Portfolio Performance

Portfolio Composition

Trying to not be dogmatic

A few years ago I read a book called Mistakes were Made.  The book described our ability as human beings to remain convinced that we are right to the point where we ignore all evidence to the contrary.

Our predisposition to fabricate reasons why we are right and ignore reasons why we are wrong is based on a concept called cognitive dissonance.  As the book defines it:

Cognitive dissonance is a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions (ideas, attitudes, beliefs, opinions) that are psychologically inconsistent… Dissonance produces mental discomfort ranging from minor pangs to deep anguish; people don’t rest easy until they find ways to reduce it.

All symptoms I am all too well acquainted with.

Along the same lines, I came across an interesting piece on FT this week.  The following quote can be attributed to SocGen’s Dylan Grice:

But all is not lost. The bias towards thinking we’re more correct than we are isn’t driven by an inability to fully assimilate undesirable information but an unwillingness to do so. Therefore, the first step in removing the bias is to adopt procedures that foster a more honest acceptance of logical conclusions. Logic has no emotional content per se. There is no such thing as good or bad information; information is only true or false.

But because of our hardwiring, we only want certain information to be true. In particular, we want the information that confirms our prior beliefs and validates our belief systems to be true — about ourselves, about others, about the world. Thus, debiasing ourselves must involve an honest assessment of what we want: do we want to be right about everything, or do we want to know what’s true?

Let’s bring this back to what this blog is about: investing.  In my piece last week I stepped through the basic premises on which I am currently invested.  The tenants I stated were the conclusion of a somewhat anguished and certainly restless mental reevaluation that I had been running through over the prior few weeks.

As the market moved against me I  started to look at why I might be wrong.  In my spare time I tried to “assimilate the undesirable information” and paint the most contrary picture I could.

I especially went through the exercise with gold and with my rather significant precious metal stock positions (Aurizon Mines, Atna Resources, OceanaGold, Canaco Resources, Geologix, Esperenza Resources, Lydian International and Golden Minerals).  Gold is always easy to question (what does gold really do anyways?).  I attempted to soberly evaluate both the prospects of the metal  and the companys.  I looked for reasons to basically cut them loose.

I hemmed and hawed a lot, and at times began to convince myself that I was indeed wrong.   But in the end I was led back to the basic points of valuation and underlying conditions, which seemed to me to remain firmly in gold’s favor.

This is how I make decisions.  At times it undoubtably appears that I am flip-flopping.  I am sure that my weekly writings must have an aire of contradiction when read one after another.  A reader might wonder how it is that my point of view can go from one extreme to another in the matter of weeks (see Argonaut Gold).  Or at times even flip 180 degrees only to flip back a few weeks later (see Argonaut Gold).

In truth, this is the only process I know of that allows me to really question whether I am right.  If I can push myself to the edge, almost convince myself of the diametrically opposed point of view, and still in the end come back to my original conclusions, then well, that’s really getting somewhere.   At times I push myself so far that I actually begin to believe it myself (ah yes, see Argonaut Gold), but that is just a occasionally necessary casualty.  Far more often I leave the exercise with more clarity, and with that clarity comes the likelihood that I will act properly when the situation arises.

In the end I came away from my “anguished” analysis of gold more confident in my positions than I was when I started.  And this week, on Wednesday, when the Fed news hit the wire that interest rates would be low for time eternity, that gave me the clarity to act.

The moment I read the news I bought a position in Barrick Gold, and I added to my positions in Esperanza Resources and Golden Minerals (though I neglected to make the AUM trade in my practice account).  The next day I added to OceanaGold, and thta was followed by additions to Atna and Canaco the day after that.

In my practice account:

And in my actual account:

You do the work so that you have the confidence to act.  You put in the time learning and working through why so that when an opportunity makes its brief appearance, when Bernanke comes out and says “yeah we aren’t going to raise rates for a long time” you can recognize it for what it is and say “all right, I’m in” and you know what you have to do.

Had I not been stepping through the thesis of why gold and gold stocks remain a solid investment, I likely would not have had the conviction to buy into the rally.  At worst, I would have sold into the rally, because if you really don’t know why you are investing in something you tend to take the first blip after a long period of blah as a “finally I can get out” moment.  As it is, with the Fed putting interest rates on hold for another couple years, and with their actions maybe even foreshadowing a true QE event in Europe, I feel quite confident that I am positioned well for that fall out.

Speaking of Canaco Resources…

I bought Canaco Resources at the end of the year at about $1.10 as part of my “tax loss buying binge”.  A couple of things happened with Canaco this week.

First, the stock went up.

Second, the company updated us on its activities in Tanzania:

  • Expect a resource estimate by the end of March
  • Expect a preliminary economic assessment by the end of the third quarter
  • Expect further metallurgical testing results at some point

Third, Canaccord Capital came up with an updated price target, and more importantly helped give us a glimpse at what to expect from the upcoming resource estimate (hat tip to howestreetbull who posted this on Investors Hub).

  • Canaco has approved a US$35-40 million 2012 exploration budget, and is currently drilling 10,000 metres per month at Handeni with nine diamond drill rigs and one RC rig.
  •  Six of the drill rigs are focused on delineating the Magambazi resource in preparation for the initial resources estimate. Two diamond drill rigs are focused on the Kuta and the Magambazi North Extension targets. The remaining diamond drill rig is operating on the Majiri target, where previous surface sampling and RC drilling indicate a gold anomaly. The RC drill rig iscurrently operating on the Bahati target to test preliminary regional targets.
  • We are expecting an initial resource and metallurgical test results in Q1/12, and a PEA in Q3/12. We are expecting an initial resource of 2.3 million ounces of gold at a grade of 3+ g/t gold. Previous metallurgical testing indicates recoveries of 90+% using a conventional CIL process.

Valuation: with US$110 million in cash, we believe the company is in a strong position to continue to derisk and advance the Handeni project. Our peak gold price estimate of NAVPS (10%, US$1,750/oz) remains unchanged at $7.50. We continue to value Canaco based on a 0.65x multiple to our peakgold price estimate of NAVPS.

At the current price of $1.50 Canaco trades at a market capitalization of $300M.  Subtracting the current cash balance of $115M, the enterprise value of the company is a little less than $200M.  If the deposit does indeed contain 2.3M oz of gold, the valuation being given for those ounces is about $80 per.

This is a 3 g/t open pittable deposit that looks to be 90% recoverable with a straightforward metallurgical process sheet.  In my opinion (and apparently Canaccord’s as well) those ounces should be worth more than $60/oz.

To throw out a comparison point from a recent PEA, Prodigy Gold had a PEA done for its Magino gold property last March.  The PEA assumed a CIL recovery process, a 9 year mine life, producing gold from an open pit at a grade of 1.2g/t for 9 years to give a total mine of life production of 1,585,000 oz of gold.  The after tax NPV5 of the project was estimated at $259M at $1000/oz gold.   That works out to a value of $160/oz.

Albeit there may be better comparisons out there, but this one surely suggests that Canaco is undervalued.  Canaco’s Magambazi project is much higher grade than Prodigy’s (3g/t versus 1g/t).  The location is Africa, versus Canada for Prodigy, which probably suggests a bit of a discount against Canaco but not enough to make me change my opinion.  And while the Magambazi strip is as yest unknown,  the Magambazi deposit appears to be around a hill top, which should lead to a reasonable number (the strip for Prodigy’s Magino is 3.3).

Finally, the last bit of news was that Brent Cook came out with the following plug about Canaco:

“The funds were just jumping in on this thing – and they all bailed out as well – the stock got down to $1.20. During this time period they’ve been drilling and drilling and drilling, and the results continue to show me that they’ve got what I think is going to be a legitimate, decent size, decent grade, open-pittable deposit in Tanzania,” Cook says. “So we’re buying this stock at $1.30 with $115 million in the bank, and a $41-million exploration program. That, to me, seems like a good buy.”

Yup.

When the gold price broke out on Wednesday, Canaco was the first stock I added to.

and speaking of gold…

I came across this interesting piece of information regarding the appetite of the Chinese for gold.   This may be old news to some but I think it is still worth reporting.

The People’s Bank of China  research director Zhang Jianhua was cited as saying Monday in the central bank publication Financial News that gold purchases should be ramped up when prices drop, although he gave no indication of what proportion of the nation’s $3.2 trillion forex reserve should be allocated to investments in gold.

Apparently, Jianhua called gold the only safe haven left and said that:

“the Chinese government needs to further optimize China’s foreign exchange asset portfolio and seek relatively low entry points to buy gold assets…no asset is safe now.  The only choice to hedge risks is to hold hard currency – gold”.

High House Prices

I’ve been doing some research on house prices in Canada and in particular in my city, Calgary.  I plan to do a separate post on my findings shortly, but for the moment I just want to throw up a couple teaser graphs that gave me pause for thought.

The chart is taken from a speech given by Mark Carney to a Vancouver audience last June.  The methodology used is the ratio of the nationwide median home price to the median household disposable income. A ratio of greater than 3 has traditionally been seen as unaffordable.

It makes you think.

One other chart from the same report.  Below is the average house price in Vancouver:

Its either a heck of a bull market or a bubble.  To say it another way, I don’t know about house prices, but when a stock goes parabolic you typically know how it is going to end.

Anyways, more on this later.

Community Bankers Trust

It was a good week for Community Bankers Trust (BTC).

Earnings will come out for the company on Tuesday.  Hopefully the company will put together another profitable quarter.

The BTC story

I bought BTC as a turnaround story.  Community Bankers Trust is a bank that has been trying to reincarnate itself after the first incarnation came close to an early death. My observation is that they have been successfully navigating this resurrection, and with the recent turn in profitability (and a helpful turn in the economy) the bank is on its way to realizing its earnings potential.

The bank was hit hard by the recession in 2009.  The company saw nonperforming loans skyrocket from 2% of total loans in the first quarter of 2009 to 10% of total loans in the second quarter of 2011.  Yet there have been signs that the efforts the company has been making to turn itself around are working, culminating with a profitable quarter in Q3.

Let’s hope they can keep that momentum.

How did they get to here?

The original strategy of the bank was, as far as I can tell at least, to simply buy other banks and get bigger.  Witness, the name of the original company was called Community Bankers Acquisition Corporation  (CBAC), so they weren’t exactly being subtle.  Along with the acquisition strategy, the bank seemed to have a “worry about the profitability later” strategy, which may have worked ok when the economy was growing but that fell flat when the economy didn’t in 2008.

As best as I can discern the acquisition effort was spearheaded by Gary Simanson. He headed up the original company CBAC, and then moved into a position of Strategic Vice President, a position I don’t think I’ve ever heard of with any other company. According to this article, Simanson was responsible for subsequent acquisitions.

In truth, the timing was what killed the acquisition strategy.  To quickly step through the timeline, in May 2008 the company began its journey by acquiring two local Virginia banks, TransCommunity Financial Corporation, , and BOE Financial Services of Virginia, Inc.  In November the bank moved ahead and acquired The Community Bank, which was a little bank in Georgia.  Finally in January 2009 they acquired Suburban Federal Savings Bank, Crofton, Maryland.

So you had 4 bank acquisitions in less than a year happening at the time of a 100 year financial tsunami.  How do you think things turned out?

Change in Direction

By 2010 Simanson had left the company and the direction of the company was changed to the more pragmatic “we need to get profitable before we go belly up” strategy.

This was described pretty bluntly in the 2010 second quarter report. CEO Gary Longest said at the time:

Our strategy has shifted from that of an aggressive acquisition platform, to one that meets the banking needs of the communities we serve, while providing sustainable returns to our stockholders. To this end, we are taking the necessary steps to return immediately to profitability. We are actively analyzing our market base to assess the contributions of all branches to our franchise value and will take the appropriate actions in the third quarter of this year. Additionally, we will make aggressive expense reductions, and will look to restructure and strengthen the balance sheet. We are confident that the analysis of these potential critical paths and the resulting execution of these initiatives will lead us back to profitability quickly.” “Our goal is an immediate return to consistent quarterly profits. To accomplish this, we have no alternative as a Company but to make clear and intelligent decisions in the next 60 days, no matter how difficult, to accomplish that goal as soon as possible. That is our full focus.”

 In a somewhat odd twist to which I’m sure there is a good story, Longest himself was gone only a couple months later. Nevertheless the interim CEO and soon to be permanent CEO Rex L. Smith took up the reins and has carried out the strategy quite well given the circumstances.

 Where are they now?

I already mentioned that the company had its first profitable quarter in a long time last quarter.  I don’t believe this was a one time fluke.  It looks to me like its the culmination of a number of initiatives put forward by the bank that have been geared towards making the bank more profitable.

The company has made an effort to lower the cost of its deposit base.  Time deposits, which are expensive high interest bearing deposits, have decreased from 73% to 67% of total deposits since the end of 2009.  As well, the cost of the time deposits has come down from 2.9% in 2009 to 1.6% in the third quarter.

The effect has been a steadily rising net interest margin (NIM) since the strategic direction change in 2010.

(note that this graph is a simplified version of NIM calculated as a percentage of all assets rather than the more common formulation of interest bearing assets)

The company also undertook efforts to reduce expenses.  The most common way of illustrating the day to day expenses of a bank is through something called the Efficiency ratio.  The Efficiency ratio is simply the ratio of the total non-interest expenses at the bank (so the salaries, building costs, lawyer fees, pretty much everything except the actual cost of borrowing money) to the  net interest margin (so the amount of interest made minus the amount of interest paid).  The reason that you look at the Efficiency ratio is because it ex’s out growth, since growth should occur for both NIM and expenses in concert with one another.

The Effiency ratio of BTC has been falling consistently.

What’s it worth?

To get an idea of what the bank might be worth if it continues to pull itself together, I put together a proforma earnings estimate.  I stripped out all the provision for loan losses, the FDIC intangibles (from their earlier acquisitions) that the bank is required to amortize, as well as losses on real estate and gains of the sale of securities.  So basically I looked at the banking skeleton that is BTC.  Here is what I found:

What this clearly demonstrates is that if get rid of all the scabs, there is quite a profitable little enterprise here.

Meanwhile, the bank sports a tangible book value that is much greater than the current share price ($1.40 after last weeks run up):

What is left to be done?

The story that still needs to play itself out is the healing process.  The really big negative for the bank is that it still has an extremely elevated portfolio of non-performing loans.  There are signs that this is abating, and in truth part of the bet here is the same one that you make on any regional bank: the US economy is turning the corner, the Fed is not going to allow it to fall into another recession, and so the worst of the loan defaults are behind us.

But just to get an idea of the risk here, typically you wouldn’t want a bank to have non-performing loans in excess of a couple of percent.  Many of the best banks I’ve looked at have nonperforming loans of well less than 1%.  BTC, onthe other hand…

There are tentative signs that the peak has passed, but it will take a few quarters before we know for sure that further write-downs are not coming.

Earnings on Tuesday will give us a lot of insight into the direction of the trends.  I’ll be looking closely at nonperforming assets and the 30-89 day deliquents (which are an early warning of the soon-to-be not performing.  I also will be hoping to see some decent earnings.

Week 28: Outperformance of the Regional Banks, Buying Xenith Bankshares, Gramercy CDO-2005 and I admit I was wrong (and originally right) about Argonaut Gold

Portfolio Performance:

Portfolio Composition:

If the regional banks are outperforming…

Donald Coxe had a very good conference call last week.  To be honest, I think his calls have been pretty boring for the last 6 months.  He doesn’t have any better grasp on the Euro-crisis then anyone else, yet the situation in Europe is of such a systemic nature that any insight he provided on anything else, always became prempted with the caveat: Assuming all goes well in Europe.

Well last Friday he broke from this mold and made his first endeavour into the terrain of bullish sentiment in some time.

His reason?

The banks.

The main reason for his bullish outlook is the outperformance of the regional bank index, the KRE. As Coxe said:

When you get 3 months of outperformance while the S&P is itself recovering that is a powerful sign that the market has digested the bad news and that things will get better.

The KRE has indeed been outperforming.

I must admit, I’m tentative to proclaim my outright bullishness just yet.  Tto be fair to Coxe, he qualified his own bullihs stance by pointing out that there was still a lot else that had to go right for the bullish call to play out.

I do admit, however, that the signs are beginning to accumulate.  Jobless claims are trending down, the ISM is looking more stable, news out of China (particularly that inflation has fallen) is starting to sound more positive, and heck, even the Italian and Spanish 10-year yields are trending down at the moment.

So what do you buy if you are bullish?

Well, on the conference call Coxe proclaimed (once again) the supremecy of the commodity stocks.  A bit of a broken record is he, but why stop with what works.  Well I am long oil, long gold, thinking about how I might get long copper or coal (but more on that below).  I have those bases covered.  Perhaps the more specific question you might ask, is what does one buy when the KRE is outperforming?

And the logical answer to that?

…buy the regional banks

I’ve been accumulating the shares of a number of regional banks over the past few months.  What is my thesis?

  • The lows of August felt like a bottom
  • There is volume in some bank stocks that typically have had no volume whatsoever (is somebody starting to care?)
  • The housing market in some regions is bottoming
  • The write-downs at many of these banks has peaked
  • How much further below book value these businesses can go?

I’ve been listening to this mortgage broker and originator podcast called Lykken on Lending on my bike ride into work for the last 3 months.  Its interesting stuff.  The first thing that’s interesting is just how intertwined real estate is with regulation.  They actually have a regular segment on this show that is dedicated to new legislation being considered by congress or the senate. Its crazy!  Second thing that is interesting; there is starting to be some signs of life in the mortgage market.  For the first time we are seeing private lenders getting back into the game.  They had a company on a couple weeks ago that was funded by Lew Raneiri (the godfather of securitization) and that is looking for loans that are just below the level of what passes for the GSE’s.

It’s starting again!

In this short clip below, Jim the Realtor, prominently featured on CalculatedRisk, makes out the bull case for a barn-burner spring.  Says Jim: “I think we get into spring time – if rates are still this low – it’s going to be a real frenzy.”

Kyle Bass and MGIC

Another favorite of mine, Kyle Bass, recently bought a large stake (just under 5%) in MGIC.  I stepped through MGIC over Christmas and will review the work I did another time,  but to make a few brief conclusions I determined the value certainly might be there but I just don’t understand the business (the mortgage insurers are hugely levered companies with massive amounts of housing liabilities against them) well enough to pull the trigger.  Specifically, the solvency of MGIC and the rest of the insurers seems to depend as much on the ability of the insurers to mark their liability per payout (in other words how much they owe for the foreclosure they insured) as anything else, and that appears to be a bit of black magic to me.

Nevertheless, MGIC has moved substantially higher since that time, something that seems unlikely if the housing market were about to (triple?) dip again.  Here is what Bass had to say about MGIC and the housing market a couple of months ago.  From the WSJ:

Mr. Bass said that while the housing market was still around two to three years from firmly “bottoming out,” he said any future price declines would be quite modest. “I don’t anticipate a huge decline,” he said.

I think he’s right.  Residential housing is closer to a bottom then a top.  And its bottomed in some markets.

The Housing Market Turns?

Residential housing is the lifeblood of most regional and community banks.  A turn in those markets could turn the fortunes of these companies.That’s why I’ve picked up shares in the following stocks over the last couple of months:

  • Oneida Financial (ONFC)
  • Bank of Commerce Holdings (BOCH)
  • Atlantic Coast Financial (ACFC)
  • Community Bankers Trust (BTC)

Apart from Oneida, these stocks are not for the faint of heart.  I know there are plenty of well capitalized but fairly valued banks out there that can return you 10-15% per year in all likelihood.  I want a bit more than that though.  So I am willing to step out on the limb a bit further to get it.

Xenith Bankshares and the problem with RBC practice accounts

I’m going to get into Xenith in a second but first let me say something about this RBC practice account.

Great idea.  The idea to be able to put fake money into an account, to have it count commissions and to be able to make buys and sells in real time is super.

The problem lies in the execution.  First there was the problem placing orders.  This started back in September.  I wrote them about it. They said they would fix it.  They wrote:

Here we are in January, I still have to do this clugey workaround where before I can place an order I have to start it through my margin account and then at the last step switch the practice account.

Now, just yesterday, another problem.  Apparently I can’t place an order for select NASDAQ stocks.  In particular those that are NASDAQ:CM (capital markets).  This just started.  I phoned RBC.  Luckily I’m on their gold plus customer plan or whatever its called so I get some service.  They look into it, see what’s wrong, but now they have to send it to their “back office people” to fix it.

We shall see.

Thus it is that while I own XBKS, I do not own XBKS in my practice account.  I don’t know when that will happen.  If any of my readers knows of another better service for tracking a mock portfolio, please email me.

Anyways, that’s the story, onto the stock.

My latest bank pick: Xenith Bankshares

Xenith Bankshares is a community bank centered out of Richmond Virginia.

The bank specalizes in making commercial loans, which make up some 88% of their loan book.

Xenith was involved in two transactions during the summer, buying banks from two other distressed Virginia lenders (Paragon Community Bank and Virginia Business Bank or VBB).  In the case of VBB, the bank was bankrupt and the transaction took place through the FDIC.  In the case of Paragon, Xenith just took over the Richmond based operations of the banks.  In both cases, the company is only responsible for the performing loans on these banks books.

The history of Xenith and these two transactions have already been written up in two excellent posts on a website called Frog’s Kiss, here and here.  I will not dwell on the details of the bank to much further, because all the information is there.

Why Xenith?

Xenith is aggressively growing their loan book in Virginia, both through transactions like the above, and organically through new loans.  They have done a good job of making loans, and so far nonperforming assets are not a significant threat.

And yet you aren’t paying much for this growth.  The company has a tangible book value of a little over $65M, whereas at the current share price of $3.70, the market capitalization is a little under $40M.

Why so cheap?

Well for one, the bank isn’t profitable yet.   Xenith has been losing about $1.5M per quarter all in for the last couple of years.  For two, it is a bank and after all no one wants to own a bank, right?

Of course that might be about to change.

Part of the bet here is that the management at Xenith can integrate these recent transactions and bring their profitability up to the company’s standard.    The company was created originally with a takeover of First Bankshares.  This was a sleepy little commercial lender that had a fairly weak interest margin.  The management at Xenith have been successful in increasing the NIM significantly since that time (see below).  The expectation is that they will do something similar with the newly acquired loan and deposit base.

The second part of the bet is that Xenith has a lot more room to grow.  The company’s tangible equity (as noted above), is about $64M.  Loans and securities and other risk assets are about $360M.  So the company is only employing about 6x leverage.  They should be able to raise this to around 10x over the course of the next year.

If they do, and are successful in their lending endeavors, you might expect the company to deliver a return of somewhere around 1% to 1.5% return on assets.  Taken another way, you might expect the company to deliver somewhere between 8% and 12% return on current equity when its all said and done.  Projecting either of these metrics leads to a fairly cheap earnings multiple (somewhere between 4x and 7.5x earnings depending on their success.   This suggests that as this plays out over the next couple of years, you could expect the stock price to at least double (and optimistically quadruple if the banks become loved again) from current levels as they move ahead.

Gramercy Capital: CDO-2005 passes the over-collateralization test?

With Gramercy, as much sleuthing that I am doing of the company, I feel like I do almost as much sleuthing of other investors.  With Gramercy, one of the best to follow is PlanMaestro.  He posts a blog called Variant Perceptions, also posts on yahoo, investorshub, and corner of berkshire and hathaway.  In this case the relevant piece comes from the latter.  Says Plan:

Jameson Inn was already written off 100% for OC purposes and CDO 2005 passed again its most recent test .

As those of you that read last weeks letter would know, I pointed out that CDO 2005 was unlikely to pass any time soon if it was only curing its undercollateralization with interest payments.  To have passed again, one of two things must have happened.

  1. About $100M of the assets held were paid back, with the proceeds being used to pay out the senior CDO holders
  2. One of the written down loans began to reperform

To discuss the possibility of the latter, there was news this week that the Vegas Hilton, which is in receivership and which has been 60% written down by Gramercy in CDO 2005.  For some time now Goldman Sachs, which holds the mortgage on the LVH along with Gramercy and another party, have been trying to convince the courts to let them run the hotel and gaming operations while it goes through the foreclosure process.  The problem is that the gaming license is owned by the previous owners Colony Resorts.  Colony Resorts had been fighting back saying that if their gaming license was used by the receiver, they could be liable without having any oversight control.

The issue was very recently brought to the court, which ruled that the receiver would only have non-gaming authority.  But then the Nevada Gaming Commission passed its own contrary verdict, allowing for the casino to operate under the existing license.  The matter went back to the courts and just last week news came out that the ruling was in favor of Goldman.

Given the information I have, I can only speculate that this contributed to the change in the collateral test.  The loan sat on the books of CDO 2005 at about $29M as of March.  It was apparently written down 60%, though I have no confirmation of that figure.    CDO 2005 was about $18M short as of last October.  Putting that all together, it seems very unlikely the loan could have had that big of an impact on the collateral test.  Still its an interesting exercise to go through, and a positive development both that the CDO 2005 is now passing, and that the LVH loan is likely accruing some interest again.

Argonaut Gold Pulls together a Strong PEA

This whole short Argonaut Gold trade didn’t exactly work out..  In fact, I don’t know what I was thinking.  I need to start reading my own press clippings.

To recap, two weeks ago I shorted some Argonaut against part of my long of Aurizon Gold. My reasoning was that if gold continued to fall Argonaut, being much more highly valued then Aurizon and at the same time having less cash, would have further to tumble.

I’m a little embarrassed that I made this suggestion. It was only two months ago that I had been arguing that Argonaut was one of the better gold stock investments out there.  I had it right originally. That thesis, which is available here, was that Argonaut had very strong growth opportunities and those growth opportunities could be accomplished with minimal CAPEX. If there is one thing the Street loves, its growth. If there is another thing the Street loves, its not having to put up a bunch of cash up front to get that growth.

Today the company released the PEA it had completed on the La Colorada project.

The PEA showed the following highlights:

  • Initial Capital Expenditure for the project is estimated at $14.5 million with a Sustaining Capital of $11.7 million.
  • Operating costs of $620/oz over the LOM, including $1.50/t mining costs, $2.36/t processing costs, and a 3.4:1 strip ratio
  • Gold equivalent production of 53,000oz per year over 9 years
  • Pre-tax Net Present Value (“NPV”) of $278 million using a 5% discount rate at $1500/oz gold

Overall the numbers would be mediocre if it were not for the capital costs, which at $14.5M is chump change for a project this size.  This is even less than the my estimate of $25M to which I commented: There are not many companies that can boast near term production potential with so little up front costs.

When I had shorted Argonaut against a portion of my Aurizon long it was with the idea that the quarterly results might show disappointment and the idea that the gold price might be susceptible to an even bigger pullback. El Castillo has underperformed the last couple of quarters, and with a mine that is of as low a grade as El Castillo the operators run a very fine line between success and failure.

That could still be the case, but having witnessed the stocks continuing rise I am reluctant to wait and find out. I got out Monday when the PEA came out.  At this level ($8) the stock is too expensive to buy.  I have to just admit I made a mistake by selling it in the first place (I owned both Aurizon and Argonaut back in October, but sold Argonaut after poor 3rd quarter results), and move on.

Is Aurizon a Value Trap?

How bad was that decision I made back in October to sell Argonaut and hold Aurizon?  Well, I owned both stocks until the middle of October, when I sold Argonaut after less than impressive 3rd quarter results.

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This is a painful chart for me to look at.

Nevertheless, pain is a necessary condition of learning, and it helps some time to agonize over your own stupidity for a while, just so that its really grilled into you not to do the same thing again.

With that in mind, what did I do wrong?

Aurizon Mines: Visions of Joanna someday

In contrast to Argonaut, Aurizon does not seem to be in much of a rush at all to bring Joanna into production.  This timeline says it all:

May 12th 2008

Aurizon first commissioned a pre-feasibility study on Joanna.

November 11, 2009

Aurizon finally received that pre-feasibility study and proceed to a full feasibility study.

September 14th 2010

Aurizon notifies shareholders that the original recovery process assumed (called the Albion process) would show lower recoveries and higher costs than first anticipated. Additional metallurgical test work would be done and the study delayed until mid 2011. http://www.aurizon.com/English/News/News-Releases/News-Releases-Details/2010/Aurizon-Reports-On-Progress-Of-Joanna-Feasibility-Study/default.aspx

August 11, 2011

Aurizon delays the feasibility study for Joanna again, saying: “the projected capital and operating costs appear to be significantly higher than previously anticipated. The increased scope of the project, as a result of the expanded mineral resource base, has increased capital costs, including those associated with an autoclave process. The costs of ore and waste stockpiles, tailings and of materials and equipment have also all been trending higher, along with the gold price.”

January 11, 2012

Another update giving an ETA: Feasibility study work on the Hosco deposit will continue in 2012 with completion of the study anticipated by mid-year. The feasibility study will incorporate a reserve update based on the increased mineral resource estimate announced on June 13, 2011, together with results of metallurgical pilot tests, a geotechnical study, updated capital and operating cost estimates, and other relevant studies.

Its been almost 4 years since the original pre-feasibility study on Joanna was complete! At this rate they should be mining by 2100.

As is obvious from above, there have been some metallurgical difficulties with Joanna. Was I too optimistic with my analysis?

To compare, the original pre-feasibility study assumed $187M in CAPEX. The operating costs were estimated at $434/oz. My analysis assumed $215M CAPEX, and operating costs of $717/oz. I think I have been safely conservative on the operating costs. I may turn out to be less so with the CAPEX.

The more fundamental point is that when I invested in Aurizon I strayed from my usual criteria for choosing mining companies in a couple key respects. Both of these have come back to haunt me:

A. Look for miners with a strong pipeline of growth. The market likes growth. It does not always appreciate value. The reason there is supposed “value stocks” is because the market does not appreciate value in itself.

B. Capital costs must be low and mining methods must be simple. The best mine to invest in is a simple heap leach deposit. High capital costs tend to get higher. Complicated mining and recovery processes tend to underperform to plan.

So what am I going to do about it?

Unfortunately there is not much I can do. Argonaut is $8 and Aurizon is $5. Most of the move in AR has been done. I’m not going to chase it at this point. Aurizon is probably much akin to OceanaGold, which I have played much more intelligently by buying the stock at $2.20 and selling it at $2.70 again and again. With Aurizon those numbers are probably around $5 and $6. Indeed I did sell some Aurizon around the $6 range the last time it was there but I think that its time to recognize that without a strong feasibility study for Joanna, that $6-$7 is about all you can expect here.

Portfolio

I’m getting too many stocks in my portfolio.  I am also seeing my cash position dwindle because I keep picking up new stocks without selling old ones.  I am still extremely cautious about Europe, and being so, I am getting uncomfortable with both of these trends in my portfolio.  In the next couple weeks I am going to reevaluate what I own and start paring where I need to.  The problem, as it always is, is that I like the prospects of all the stocks I own.  Unfortunately, as I think I showed rather clearly in my last post describing my 2011 performance, I am just as often wrong about that as I am right.  The likelihood of my own fallibility must never be underestimated.

Letter 26: A Move in ACFC, the end of tax loss selling for gold stocks, Mispricing of Aurizon Mines, and All the Devils are Here

All the Devils are Here (though most have probably moved to Europe)

Over the winter break I read the book All the Devils are Here, by Bethany Mclean and Joe Nocera. The book essentially traces out all the strands that culminated in the panic of September 2008. The book identified the following factors:

  1. A reliance on ideology instead of analysis. In particular this applies to the Federal Reserve and Alan Greenspan, whose ideological “market is always right” view permeated the decisions of the Fed and to some extent those of the other regulatory bodies. But more generally, ideology, specifically free market ideology, seemed to permeate through all the political and financial institutions to the point that it replaced a sober look at reality. Similarly, for many traders and investment bankers, an ideological reliance on “the model” often led to an ignorance of the potential risks of an outlier scenario
  2. The absence of regulation. For a variety of reasons (the power of the lobby groups, the political infighting between the regulatory bodies, the ideological free market view of the participants and the myopic focus on regulators on Fannie and Freddie) an attempt to regulate the subprime industry was hardly even contemplated until it was too late.
  3. The development of securitization. The most important consequence of the innovations to pool mortgages, to tranche pools, and then to create pools of pools (CDO’s) was that the lender and the borrower became further and further divorced by more degrees of separation. The securitization process created so many layers of intermediaries between the party who actually ended up with the loan on their books and the party that took the money that risks were easily lost in the translation.
  4. The rubber stamped AAA status provided by the ratings agencies. Some books focus on how the rating agencies didn’t understand what they were rating. Mclean and Nocera point out that the revenue structure of the agencies was doomed to be corrupted. A system where the raters are paid by the producers of the securities they rate might be considered to be an insane one. The result was that the agencies were played off against one another by the investment banks; market share went to the most relaxed rating. Add to this the fact that the agencies, particularly Moody’s, became focused on profits at the expense of their inherent conflict of interest, and you had a situation ripe for abuse.
  5. Greed. Politicians more concerned with their own campaign donations than with promoting sustainable public policy. Company executives intent strictly on their own promotion and profit. Mortgage originators with essentially no moral compass at all. The system was (and is) corrupt.
  6. A lack of understanding. The same characters at play as with greed. So few people saw the disaster coming. Sure some did, there were a few regulators and a few hedge funds that saw how unsustainable the leverage being piled on in the mortgage sector was. But the vast majority didn’t have a clue. Even the supposed smart money didn’t really get smart until 2006-2007.

It is this last point, the lack of understanding, that I think is most relevant to what we face today. It really surprised me how little the people in influential and powerful positions understood the concepts that they were making decisions with regard to. Even Hank Paulson, who is actually portrayed in quite a positive light, was completely blind to the corruption and leverage being amassed in the mortgage market.

This naturally begs the question of Europe: how many of the politicians and bureaucrats in the EU really understand the situation they are trying to navigate? Do they really know the risks inherent in the decisions that they are making? Do they even really understand the banking sector they are trying to protect?

The last 6 months for me has been an education in how the modern banking system works. I have been trying to read all that I can, all the boring, technical aspects. And I don’t think for a minute think that I’ve wrapped my head around it. There are so many moving and interdependent parts. It’s also not a very tangible subject. It simply isn’t something that is easily understood.

Thus I think it’s a legitimate question as to whether the bureaucrats of Europe have the understanding required to navigate the minefield of sovereign defaults and banking bankruptcies. As Lehman showed, it only takes one mistake to create a loss of confidence that spirals uncontrollably.

How can you take on risk with this in mind?

The end of (tax loss) selling?

The week after tax-loss selling is always an interesting one.  It provides the first glimpse into whether a security has been facing unrelenting selling because of investors simply wishing to take their losses (and their tax breaks) and move on, or whether something more nefarious is at play.  Along the lines of the former, this week provided a rather marked jump in a number of the regional bank stocks that I have initiated a position in.  Most conspicuous of these moves was that of Atlantic Coast Financial.

A Take-over Imminent for ACFC?

ACFC had a rather astounding 50%+ move this week.  I really have no idea what precipitated the move.  To take it with a grain of salt, the volume for the stock this week was less than spectacular, though the same could be said for almost the entire move down.

As I pointed out last week the stock is a bit of a flyer; the bank is a mortgage lender in one of the most crippled mortgage markets (Florida), they have bad loans coming out their wazoo, and a stock that has fallen from $10 to $1 in less than a year generally does not do so on speculative panic alone.  Nevertheless, part of the story is the book value, which even with 3 years of bad loan write-downs lies at a rather surreal $19 per share (versus a share price of $1.70 when I bought it).

The other part of the story is simply the realization that what is going on with this bank (and many of these little community banks that got caught up in making bad loans at the wrong time) is a race between the write-downs of their past transgressions and the earnings of their current performing loan book.   With ACFC it is not at all clear to me that the bad loans will win out; in fact I tried to make the case last week that with a little luck (and an improving economy) the performing book may very soon be able to out-earn the losses on a consistent basis.  If this happens, the shares are clearly worth more than 10% of book value.  Even if it just becomes a possibility, a shrewd competitor may be tempted to take a plunge.  I constructed the chart below to try to see where ACFC is in that process.  The chart compares earnings before provisions (black) to the quarter over quarter change in non-performing loans (red).  Its basically a look at whether the company is out-earning the loans going bad each quarter.  The 3rd quarter was the first in four that the black won out.

Community Bankers Trust: Another Regional Bank with a Move of its Own

While ACFC was the best of the lot of regionals, there were others that showed signs of life.  Community Bankers Trust surged on Friday.  The stock remains at about 1/3 of book value.  If it were not for Europe and the ever-impending doom there, I would add more.  As well, Oneida Financial continues to push higher.  Unlike ACFC, BOCH and BTC, Oneida is a terribly boring bank trading at about book that is probably going to do nothing but increase in price by 10% a year and pay a 5% dividend until one day it gets bought out.  At some point I might get bored with with relatively low return, but in this environment, I am happy to take a reward with so little risk.

Will Gold Stocks Rise now that Tax-loss Selling is over?

As for the golds, Esperanza, Canaco and Geologix all are showing classic signs of a let-up in tax loss selling.  All are well above where I bought them.  Aurizon, on the other hand, continues to be sold rather indiscriminately.  Yes, I realize that the price of gold is getting clobbered on a regular basis.  I can appreciate that investors may be questioning the wisdom of holding gold as a hedge to anything given the fact that it seems to dramatically underperform on risk-off days.

Still, I scratch my head at Aurizon.  Here is a low cost gold producer that is comparatively less correlated to the price of gold than most of its competitors.   For one, if you are low cost you are by definition high margin.  Thus, a $30 move in the price of gold is of much less impact to a producer with $1000/oz margin (like Aurizon), than say a producer with a $500/oz margin.  Yet Aurizon regularly trades down MORE than your average gold producer on the down days.

Going Short Argonaut Gold and long Aurizon Mines

So confounded have I been that in order to hedge my risk with Aurizon I have decided to take a short position in a fellow gold producer, Argonaut Gold.  To be sure, there is nothing wrong with Argonaut Gold.  I wrote the company up rather glowingly a couple months ago.  However that was at $5, and now AR trades at $7, while in the same time Aurizon has fallen to less than $5. Below is a comparison of the key metrics of both companies.

So to briefly summarize the above, Aurizon produces more than twice as much gold, it produces over double the cash flow, and to top it off, Aurizon’s 3rd quarter was stronger than Argonaut’s.  Argonaut potentially has a better pipeline of projects, but this is more than nullified by the fact that Aurizon trades at almost half the price on a per producing ounce basis, produces those ounces at $50-$100 cheaper, and has over $1 in cash on its balance sheet while Argonaut has a mere 30 cents. It simply doesn’t make sense.

While I remain bullish the price of gold, I also remain wary that I am not very right in this bullishness at the moment, and so it seems like the prudent thing to do to short what seems relatively over valued and buy what seems relatively undervalued.  Anyways, that is what I did.

I also bought back OceanaGold for another run.  Its getting to be repetitive, but it has been a consistant source of profits.  Buy OceanaGold below $2.20 and sell it above $2.70.   I must have done this 3 times already in the last 9 months.

Portfolio

Letter 24: Risk and Reward, Atna Analysis, More Community Banks

Last week I wrote that I did not understand why  the market was reacting as favourably as it was to the European proposals that came out of the Dec 9th summit.

A tweak here, a tweak there and pretty soon you have… well not a whole lot to be honest.

In a way I felt vindicated  by the market collapse that occurred in the early part of this week.  In another way I felt sick to my stomach, because though I have been creating an evermore conservative weighting to my portfolio, when the shit hits you still feel it.

Kyle Bass was on CNBC this week giving some more detail on his doomsday-like expectations:

The observation that deposits are leaving Greek banks at an annualized rate of almost 50% is somewhat frightening.  Clearly this crisis is going to come to a head soon.

John Mauldin publishes a great conversation between Charles Gave and Anatole Kaletsky.   It is quite provoking, and its hard to walk away after reading it without feeling the impending doom that awaits the Eurozone.  Kaletsky and Gave both make the quite reasonable point that perhaps Germany would prefer a break-up of the Eurozone.  If you watch what Germany is doing, and ignore the platitudes they are saying, you might question their motives.  Kaletsky points out that of the necessary measures to fix the Eurozone, Germany seems to be steadfastly opposed to both Eurobonds and to ECB intervention.  Absent those  measures, what hope does the Eurozone have?  Perhaps that is the plan all along.

Gold Stocks – I should went all out

Gold stocks got CREAMED this week.  I had been lightening up on my gold stocks the week before in anticipation that something might be about to hit.  I didn’t like the way gold was going, I didn’t like the fact that the WSJ was penning articles describing a dearth of Indian demand, and I didn’t like that Draghi talked tough during the EU summit, suggesting that money printing was still some time off.

Nevertheless being that I was not fully out of gold stocks, I got smacked about pretty good over the course of the week.   Atna, Aurizon, and with Lydian all performed quite miserably.

What’s Wrong with Aurizon?

Aurizon is a surprise to me.  I expected the stock to hold up better than it has been.  I might have expected its performance to be closer to that of Alamos.  Both are low cost producers.  Both are single mine operations.  Yet the valuation difference between the two is somewhat staggering.

I can only guess that there is a strong seller of Aurizon out there that wants to be out of the stock by year end.  I can only hope that the new year will bring some sanity to the stock.

While reviewing Aurizon, I began to wonder how much having a AMEX listing hurts the stock.  Anecdotally it appeared to me  that the Canadian stocks with AMEX listings are much more volatile then those without.  I decided to take a closer look.

I grabbed price data since August 1st for 9 stocks, 5 with AMEX listings and 4 without.  From the web I grabbed a visual basic function that calculates volatility based on the following Black-Scholes formula.

For purposes of Black-Scholes calculations, volatility is the standard deviation of the periodic percent change in prices, divided by the square root of time.  Volatility is emphatically NOT the same as “beta”, which measures the correlation of a security’s price movements with those of the overall market.  Neither is volatility simply a measure of the standard deviation of a security’s closing prices over time.

Here is the volatility of each security:

Is there a correlation?  Perhaps, though its not as clear a one as I had suspected.   The distinction is most clear between Aurizon, Alamos and Argonaut Gold.  There is no reason, in my opinion, that Aurizon is so much volatile than these other two stocks.  But apart from that, volatility seems similar between stocks on the two indexes.

I bought back some of the shares of Aurizon at $5.07 that I had sold at over $6 a few weeks ago.

The NPV of Atna

Another stock to get clobbered this week was Atna Resources.  I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I had finished an analyses of the company and would post shortly.  I never did that post, until now.

Below is the after tax NPV10 that I calculated for Atna at various gold prices.

I based my model on the following assumptions:

Briggs:

  • A 11year mine life, at 40,000 t/d
  • Total produced ounces of 476,000 oz over LOM
  • 0.017 oz/t resource over the mine life, strip ratio of 4 and with 80% recoveries
  • Resulting in gold production of  39,700 oz per year
  • Mining costs of $1.30/t mined, milling costs of $4/t milled and G&A costs of $1.7/t mined
  • Cash costs of $898/oz over LOM

Pinson:

  • A 15 year mine life, beginning at 350t/d and ramping to 750t/d by year 4.
  • Total produced ounces of 940,000 oz over LOM
  • 0.4 oz/t resource over the mine life, diluted by 30% with 90% recoveries, resulting in gold production beginning at 50,000 oz and ramping to 75,000 oz.
  • Mining costs of $110/t, milling costs of $50/t and G&A costs of $11/t
  • Cash costs of $687/oz over LOM

Reward:

  • A 8 year mine life, at 24,000 t/d
  • Total produced ounces of 292,000 oz over LOM
  • 0.026 oz/t resource over the mine life, strip ratio of 4 and with 80% recoveries
  • Resulting in gold production of  36,400 oz per year
  • Mining costs of $1.30/t mined, milling costs of $4/t milled and G&A costs of $1.14/t mined
  • Cash costs of $560/oz over LOM

Columbia and Cecil:

  • To the current resource of each I assigned a simple asset value per ounce of $40/oz measured and indicated and $20/oz inferred on the total resource of both properties

Atna is, in my opinion, is one of the best gold stock investments out there.  As demonstrated above, the stock is trading at about 1/3 of its NPV 10 at $1500 gold.  If I wanted to get more aggressive in my evaluation, I would note that many companies are moving to value feasibility on NPV5.  On an NPV 5 basis Atna is worth $3.86 per share at $1500/oz gold.  That number jumps to almost $8 per share at $2100/oz gold.  Clearly there is upside once the momentum begins to build.

I added to my position in Atna on Friday at 78 cents.

Taking Advantage of the Collapse

In addition to Atna and Aurizon, I also added new positions in a few juniors.  Call it the beginnings of a basket; I added a couple of non-producing juniors with deposits to my portfolio this week:

Geologix was recommended by Rick Rule as a takeover candidate on BNN about a year ago.  Since that time the stock has fallen significantly.  The company has a very low grade copper-gold deposit called Tepal in Mexico.  The PEA that was published on Tepal a few months ago put the NPV5 of the project at $412M based on $1000/oz gold and 2.75/lb copper.  Geologix has $14M of cash on hand.  With 145M shares outstanding, the market capitalization of the company was $28M at my entry price of 20 cents.  That puts half the market cap in cash and the other half in a project with an NPV that is nearly 10x the value of the company.  Something has to give here.

Esperanza Resources is another old Rick Rule recommendation.  Rule doesn’t talk much about specific stocks anymore, but there is some evidence that he is still interested in the company.  http://www.investmentu.com/2011/September/why-gold-mining-stocks-will-skyrocket.html .  The company certainly fits the bill of the sort of stock Rule likes.  Esperanza has 1Moz of gold in Mexico.   It’s a heap leach project so it should be able to be brought on production without a massive capital requirement (about $100M).  Like Geologix, the company has almost half its market cap ($100M) in cash on hand ($50M).

I plan to add more to both of these stocks in the coming weeks.

Regional Banks: A  Position in Community Bankers Trust

Community Bankers Trust (BTC) hit my bid when it sold off back down to a dollar this week.  BTC is trading at 27% of tangible book value.  This is, of course, partially because of the large number of non-performing loans on their books.  Non-performing loans make up 8.9% of total loans in the Q3 quarter.  This was down from 10.1% in Q2.  In fact, there are some encouraging signs that the worst of the loan losses are behind us.  The company has shown 3 quarters of lower loan amounts 30-89 days past due.  This trend is beginning to show up in the total non-performing loans, which decreased for the first time in a year in Q3.

Moreover, as I have pointed out previously, insiders continue to buy the stock.  Third quarter purchases by insiders were a little less than $50,000.

And Another Regional Bank Position in Atlantic Coast Financial

To be perfectly honest, I might have made a mistake here.  I’ve only put a very tiny amount of capital at risk, but even that may have been too much.   Atlantic Coast Financial (ACFC) is a lottery ticket.  I bought the stock at $1.70 on Friday.  There is just as much chance that it will go to zero as there is that it will double.

ACFC is a former Mutual Holding company that did their second step bank in February.  The second step added cash to the balance sheet and resulted in a bank trading well below book value.  ACFC trades at a rather crazy 10% of tangible book.  Clearly there is more to the story.

The more to the story is that the bank is centered in Jacksonville Florida.  They primarily make residential real estate loans.  Real estate in Jacksonville has not done particularly well over the last few years (though it appears to be bottoming).

The falling real estate prices have led to skyrocketing non-performing loans.  Those non-performing loans have not shown any sign of peaking yet (thus the possible mistake on my part).

The questions are, how many of these nonperforming loans will eventually be written down, and will there be value left in the equity once the non-performing loans are written down.

What drove me to take a small position in the stock was in part that an improving economy, and stabilizing home prices in Jacksonville, may mitigate further deterioration of the bank assets.  As well, the bank is generating decent earnings before provisions.  Ignoring provisions in Q3, the bank earned $1.16 per share.  In Q2 that number was $0.55.

What is going on at ACFC is something akin to a tug-of-war, whereby on the one hand loan losses strip away value every quarter, while on the other earnings power of the performing loans adds value back.  The share price is so low that it doesn’t take much a a shift in the dynamic between these two forces to change the value equation substantially.  Its easy to see how a stabilization in non-performing loans could quickly allow the earnings power to win the race and shareholder value to go up substantially.

The other factor in my decision to buy was the recent announcement that the company was looking into strategic alternatives.

On November 28, 2011, Atlantic Coast Financial Corporation issued a press release announcing that its Board of Directors has engaged Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated to assist the Company in exploring strategic alternatives to enhance stockholder value

Part of the reason that the company is looking for options is that they are not in compliacne with the Individual Minimum Capital Requirement (IMCR) agreed to by the Bank with the Office of Thrift Supervision on May 13, 2011.  Under the IMCR, ACFC agreed to achieve Tier 1 leverage ratio of 7.0% as of September 30, 2011. Tier I capital at the bank is 6.22% right now.

It is a far from perfect scene.  Nevertheless, an improving US economy and stabilizing housing prices could give me a decent return on the stock.  The book value of $19 is unrealistic, a return to $3 is not.

Portfolio Composition

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