First Republic Bank Stock: Why I Am Sticking To My Investment (NYSE:FRC)
A couple of things have happened to First Republic Bank (NYSE:FRC) since I submitted a contrarian call to buy the community bank’s shares about two weeks ago. FRC stock has whiplashed ever since and the bank has seen significant deposit outflows in the days following the bank failure of Silicon Valley Bank. A series of 8K disclosures were meant to reassure investors that First Republic Bank has sufficient liquidity to manage a heightened level of deposit outflows, but investors have chosen to bet against the bank and they clearly expect the worst to happen. I continue to believe that First Republic Bank is not at risk of going out of business and that the common stock potentially offers very risk-tolerant investors triple-digit return potential!
Risk control and asymmetric upside potential
To account for extraordinarily high levels of volatility in the financial market, I have chosen to take a very small position in First Republic Bank: FRC accounts for just about 1.05% of my investment portfolio which chiefly consists of non-financial stocks. Given the asymmetric risk profile that I see with brutalized community banks, I believe investors could earn multiples of their investment here… if fears subside and confidence returns to the community banking sector. However, there is a chance that First Republic Bank might be shut down or be forced to do a highly dilutive capital raise which would likely seriously impair the remaining value of the equity. Therefore, investors must recognize that there is the potential to lose the entire investment if things turn south.
Liquidity update, estimated deposit outflows and 8K disclosures
Since my last call to consider FRC in the midst of the banking bloodbath, shares of First Republic have revalued lower by about 60%. However, the bank has made a number of 8K disclosures throughout the banking crisis that were meant to inform investors about the strategic actions the community bank has been taking.
It all started with an 8K disclosure dated March 12, 2023 in which First Republic Bank announced that it secured additional liquidity from the Federal Reserve Bank and JPMorgan Chase & Co which brought its unused liquidity to a massive $70B. Undoubtedly, huge deposit outflows forced the company to bolster its cash position.
Just days later, on March 16, 2023, First Republic Bank announced that eleven lenders banded together and deposited a combined $30B into the bank (8K source) in order to signal confidence in First Republic Bank’s liquidity situation. This move also failed to calm investors and the lender’s shares have continued to sell off since.
Additionally, last week, First Republic Bank announced that a number of executives have agreed to reduce their annual bonuses to zero for 2023 while others have forfeited vesting all performance-based incentives (Source). The latest 8K, dated March 22, 2023, was meant to instill confidence in the bank yet again and align shareholder and executive interests. Since shares continued to fall last week, it is safe to say that the latest measures have not yet had a positive effect on investor sentiment.
FRC’s business banking business and recent news about deposit outflows
What was First Republic Bank’s strength before the crisis, its banking business, has become its major weakness. The bank’s focus on venture banking — taking in deposits from venture capital-backed companies and making loans to them — has revealed an unforeseen vulnerability after Silicon Valley Bank shut its doors. The key problem with SVB was not deteriorating credit quality, but rather that the bank was forced to liquidate its bond portfolio at a significant loss in order to fund deposit outflows. Most banks now have unrealized investment losses, according to JP Morgan, including First Republic Bank… which is not a big issue of these assets don’t have to be sold. Additionally, FRC’s capital position is not necessarily much worse than those of other community banks.
A potential solution to the crisis
Since First Republic Bank has a considerable focus on business clients — 63% of its deposits came from its venture banking business which are at a higher risk of leaving the bank due to the FDIC’s $250,000 insurance limit — the bank has seen considerable deposit outflows. The bank said in its 8K disclosure for March 16, 2023 that “daily deposit outflows have slowed considerably” which is also what U.S. officials have remarked on lately. About 79% of First Republic Bank’s deposits were uninsured as of the end of FY 2022. Before the crisis, First Republic Bank’s business deposits were growing steadily and according to the bank’s Q4’22 update, the bank had exceptionally good credit quality, too.
However, my guess is that the bank will sell a portion of its loan book in order to raise cash which would the best solution for First Republic Bank, and certainly preferable over an equity raise. The bank owned $166.9B in loans at the end of the December-quarter which mostly were collateralized by real estate. I can see FRC selling a portion of its loans at a fair price to larger banks in a big to shore up its balance sheet.
First Republic: Deposit losses and impact on valuation
First Republic Bank is by far the worst performing community bank, largely due to its high percentage (79%) of uninsured deposits and the need to raise $30B in additional deposits from other companies.
It is impossible to know precisely at this point how many deposits First Republic Bank has lost, but the Wall Street Journal, citing insiders, said the bank has lost about half of its deposit base, which would calculate to about $70B.
This means that FRC is also going to report at a significant decline in its book value in Q1’23. First Republic Bank reported a book value of $75.38 at the end of FY 2022. Assuming a 50% decline in book value, chiefly due to deposit outflows and a shrinking balance sheet resulting from the crisis in the financial sector, FRC may report a BV around $37-38 per-share at the end of the first-quarter. Of course, more aggressive assumptions about deposit losses would translate into even higher book value declines. A, say, 60% decrease in cash/deposits implies, roughly speaking, a 60% decline in book value… which could put the Q1’23 BV closer to $30 per-share. Since First Republic Bank’s shares are trading at $12.36, the valuation implies an 84% discount to BV. If deposits indeed declined by 60%, then the valuation may more accurately reflect a 59% discount to book value.
FRC offers by far the biggest book value discount and therefore also has the highest perceived risk. However, fear clearly is present here and investors may overestimate the decline of FRC’s deposit base.
Risks with First Republic Bank
If deposit outflows continue, the big banks might decide that it is a better idea to convert the $30B in deposits into equity, which of course would heavily dilute shareholders. First Republic Bank has enough liquidity, in my opinion, through the Bank Term Funding Program, the FED’s discount window and other banks, so I don’t believe the bank couldn’t fund incremental deposit withdrawals. What would change my mind about FRC is if the company would have to liquidate (a portion of) its bond holding portfolio and realize losses, or if the bank would do a dilutive equity offering.
First Republic Bank remains a high-risk, high-potential rebound stock in the community banking market, despite the stock being down dramatically since I took my initially position more than a week ago. The reason why I am sticking to my guns here is that I consider it highly unlikely that the FED will allow fear and panic to spread in the financial market as it has learned the lessons from 2008 financial crisis. This lesson is that failing to provide a liquidity backstop will eventually lead to a crisis much bigger, much harder to control and much more expensive than the initial, forceful intervention. First Republic Bank likely has suffered very considerable deposit outflows since I last covered the stock, but recent liquidity measures have proven to support the bank while deposit outflows appear to have stabilized lately. With the stock now trading at an 84% discount to book value, I believe investors continue to face a very attractive trading opportunity!
AI will change how you invest – and what you invest in – The Globe and Mail
While investors around the world rallied in the aftermath of the COVID-19 market crash, Scott Juds’s artificial intelligence-driven ETF was languishing.
The WIZ Bull-Rider Bear-Fighter Index, which uses AI to track changes in markets that determine whether it should shift its portfolio of exchange-traded funds to skew either more aggressive or conservative, suddenly couldn’t make sense of the data after an aberration as large as COVID-19.
“You had the initial shock of things which was followed by a series of closings and openings,” said Mr. Juds, the co-founder of Merlyn.AI, which runs WIZ.
He said the constant back-and-forth threw off the signals that AI use. “When it does that in a period of three months or less, you can’t properly determine momentum.”
As a result, WIZ is up just 7 per cent since its inception in October, 2019. Compare that with the S&P 500, which is up 37 per cent over the same period. Other simple index-tracking ETFs have posted similarly positive returns.
The performance of Mr. Juds’s ETF, which has suffered consistent losses since 2020, has sent investors running. At its peak, WIZ and DUDE (another Merlyn.AI ETF) had assets-under-management values of roughly US$250-million. Today, it’s just US$50-million.
But with AI constantly learning and big tweaks being made to the software with help from advisers, Mr. Juds is optimistic and said there has been considerable new interest in his products as long as they remain steady in the near future.
While multiple AI-driven ETFs have so far failed to beat the market, people like Mr. Juds still believe AI will be able to look through cluttered data to make investment decisions and eventually extract the best gains. Others believe it’ll be revolutionary for the user experience by giving retail investors greater education and control in customizing their portfolio while guiding them through different risk profiles.
Artificial intelligence has been one of many tools that large investing firms have consulted for years, but the popularity of ChatGPT has brought discussions of how AI can be relevant to investors at the retail level.
Mr. Juds said AI’s ability to find opportunities is rooted in the signal-to-noise ratio in investing.
There are countless data points in the world of equities that are simply background noise: They don’t mean anything. But buried deep within are valuable signals that point to meaningful investment opportunities in specific sectors.
“A very small signal like a tenth of a per cent in one day trend could get a 25-per-cent gain over a year,” said Mr. Juds. “But a 0.1-per-cent change in the market, that can get lost.”
Will AI take over the world? And other questions Canadians are asking Google about the technology
There are still people who remain skeptical about whether AI can actually bring greater returns simply by trying to make smarter or quicker trades.
Joel Blit, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo specializing in the economics of innovation, said there’s an old adage that fund managers are no better than monkeys when it comes to picking stocks.
“Why would we think that an AI system would be any better? If they can parse through large amounts of data and find the needle in the haystack, then presumably they could do better,” said Prof. Blit, but he said there are examples of AI stock pickers that have been unable to beat the market so far.
When it comes to faster trading times, Prof. Blit said that if every big hedge fund had ultrapowerful AI making quick trades to make the best gains, then everyone having similarly powerful programming could negate any real increase in returns.
On the flip side, if AI reads too deeply into certain signals and makes ill-conceived decisions, it could lead to more market volatility.
“If there’s some kind of signal that’s heavily correlated to past bear performance in the market and all of a sudden all these algorithms start selling at once, it could lead to a major market collapse,” said Prof. Blit.
That’s why a whole other world of AI experts see a different potential for the technology: to bring knowledge that has always been inaccessible and dense to the everyday investor in a way that’s personalized and meant to help guide investing strategy.
This form of AI could help someone figure out if their portfolio is too heavily weighted to a certain sector, or is too susceptible to changes in the credit market or an economic downturn.
Companies such as Global Predictions are already providing advice to thousands of investors with billions of dollars, with input from AI.
Led by Canadian chief executive officer and co-founder Alexander Harmsen and based in San Francisco, the company created an AI-driven platform to help people make future investing decisions.
The program, called PortfolioPilot, allows people to simply plug in the details of their financial life such as their debt, real estate and investment accounts to receive nuanced advice on whether the investments they’re making actually match the goals and risk appetite they have.
A new ChatGPT plug-in by the company allows people to have basic conversations with an AI that can make similar suggestions, simply by reading a copy and paste of your investing statements. If you have a couple extra thousand dollars you’re looking to invest, it can give you suggestions based on your existing portfolio about where to spend next.
The idea builds on the already-revolutionary effect that robo-advisers and simple investing products such as ETFs have had on making it easier to be a self-directed investor.
“The main value in AI is about personalization and being able to democratize access to this sort of expertise,” said Mr. Harmsen.
“We can reflect back to people that you’re not diversified enough or that your risk-adjusted return you’re taking isn’t high enough. We feel people need that extra step of, ‘Here’s a couple things you can do to improve your portfolio.’”
PortfolioPilot is free to use and has advised roughly 5,500 users with more than US$3.4-billion in assets. The company plans to eventually make money by releasing its own set of AI-guided ETFs.
Mr. Harmsen doesn’t see AI bringing human wealth managers to extinction. But he does hope it could push wealth managers to step up their game by increasing interactions with clients, lowering fees and moving away from simple risk-profile categories for investors to choose from, and instead allow for more personalized approaches to portfolios.
Already, he’s seen interest from portfolio managers who’d like to use his program.
Reducing ‘risk of extinction’ from AI should be on par with pandemics, nuclear war, experts warn
Edward Kholodenko, CEO of Questrade, said he sees client experience as the lowest hanging fruit where AI can make a difference. That includes helping clients understand how to make trades or how to complete a certain function on the company’s website.
He said Questrade is also developing and using AI internally, but providing advice to the public could be tricky because there are no regulations around the technology or its use of user data.
“It’s an area you have to be very, very careful … in terms of mining and using the data. We’re examining how to use the data to help our customers become more successful and financially secure,” said Mr. Kholodenko.
James Rockwood, founder and CEO of the fintech company CapIntel, said another obstacle is ensuring that AI remains compliant with rules if it were to directly provide financial advice, a service that is heavily regulated.
“People talk about how ChatGPT is so confident in everything it says but it doesn’t yet know if what it says is correct,” said Mr. Rockwood.
“You could run into issues where an AI could say something like, ‘This guarantees 100-per-cent returns,’ and a person can land in hot water.”
The Globe and Mail reached out to the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions and the Canadian Securities Administrators, but neither regulatory body provided comment on whether national regulations for AI usage in Canada are coming.
A study commissioned by the Autorité des marchés financiers, Quebec’s financial regulatory body, and undertaken by the University of Montreal and Polytechnique Montréal, recommended the government create a framework for the use of AI that would identify unacceptable practices and data regulations for the use of this technology.
Depending on self-thinking robots for investment decisions certainly doesn’t come without risks. Mr. Kholodenko said investors should have a sober approach to AI, since people could create bots that push people to buy products that are not in their best interest.
And already, there are multiple get-rich-quick schemes online that have little proof of working.
One thing that experts agree on is that AI technology is in its infancy. As the technology develops and the amount of historical data that AI is able to access continues to grow, Mr. Rockwood said any prediction about where AI will prove to be most valuable in the financial world is simply that: a prediction.
“I don’t think anybody is talking about what AI is today when they’re having these discussions,” he said. “They’re talking about what could happen in the future, and that future has such a wide set of potential outcomes.”
Investing 101: A beginner’s guide to growing your money
Invest Like Warren Buffett With These 3 Stocks
Warren Buffett, commonly known as the Oracle of Omaha, is a familiar name to many when thinking of the financial world.
Of course, many mimic his portfolio moves.
One of his purchases in particular, Occidental Petroleum OXY, has gained widespread attention over the last year amid volatile energy prices.
And it seems that the Oracle of Omaha can’t stay away from the stock; Berkshire has been buying more OXY throughout May, now holding roughly 2.2 million shares, reflecting a 25% stake in the company.
In addition to OXY, two other stocks that the legendary investor has placed big bets on include Coca-Cola KO and Apple AAPL.
For those interested in investing like Buffett, let’s take a closer look at each.
Buffett’s been in the headlines numerous times over the last year regarding his OXY purchases. Still, it’s worth noting that the Oracle of Omaha said there were no plans to fully acquire the company at the latest annual shareholder meeting,
OXY posted lighter-than-expected results in its latest release amid falling energy prices, with the company falling short of the Zacks Consensus EPS Estimate by roughly 16% and posting a negative -3.7% revenue surprise.
Image Source: Zacks Investment Research
Of course, the favorable operating environment has allowed OXY to reward its shareholders nicely, growing its dividend payout by nearly 40% just over the last year. Berkshire owns roughly $10 billion of OXY preferred stock, which pays an 8% dividend yield.
Image Source: Zacks Investment Research
Buffett has stated many times that he’s attracted to the mega-cap giant due to a simple fact – brand loyalty. Apple consumers tend to trade old Apple products for new ones, establishing a loyal customer base.
The company posted solid results in its latest quarter; iPhone revenue totaled $51.3 billion, 4% above the Zacks Consensus Estimate and improving 1.5% from the year-ago period.
As we can see from the chart below, the better-than-expected iPhone results snapped a streak of back-to-back negative surprises.
Image Source: Zacks Investment Research
In addition, shares provide exposure to technology and provide income, with the company’s annual dividend currently yielding 0.5%. While the yield is undeniably on the lower end of the spectrum, Apple’s 6% five-year annualized dividend growth rate helps pick up the slack.
Image Source: Zacks Investment Research
Coca-Cola is an American multinational corporation best known for its flagship Coca-Cola beverage. It’s a long-term holding for Berkshire, having first purchased shares in the late 1980s.
The company continues to grow steadily, with earnings estimated to climb 5.3% on 4.7% higher revenues in its current fiscal year (FY23). The growth is forecasted to continue in FY24, with estimates indicating earnings and revenue growth of 7.5% and 5.2%, respectively.
Image Source: Zacks Investment Research
Coca-Cola’s annual dividend presently yields 3.1%, well above the Zacks Consumer Staples sector average. It’s also worth highlighting that KO is a member of the elite Dividend King club, showing an unparalleled commitment to shareholders through 50+ years of increased payouts.
Image Source: Zacks Investment Research
Many mimic Buffett’s moves for understandable reasons.
And interestingly enough, the Oracle of Omaha has continued to purchase Occidental Petroleum OXY shares throughout May.
Two other stocks – Coca-Cola KO and Apple AAPL – also reflect sizable bets from the legendary investors.
Want the latest recommendations from Zacks Investment Research? Today, you can download 7 Best Stocks for the Next 30 Days. Click to get this free report
A Bull Market Is Coming: Here's Warren Buffett's Life-Changing Investing Advice – The Motley Fool
Recession fears sent the S&P 500 tumbling into a bear market last year, and the benchmark index is still down 12% from its high. But history says that drawdown is temporary. Every past bear market has eventually ended in a new bull market, and investors have no reason to expect a different outcome this time. That makes the current situation a buying opportunity, but not every fallen stock is worth buying.
Consider this investing advice from Warren Buffett.
Buy and hold high-quality stocks
Buffett once said, “All there is to investing is picking good stocks at good times and sticking with them as long as they remain good companies.” There are two important lessons there. First, valuation matters. A great business at the wrong price can be a terrible investment. Second, think long-term. Investors should ignore the day-to-day fluctuations in the market and instead focus on buying and holding good stocks.
But what qualifies as a good stock?
Invest in companies with a competitive advantage
In his 1995 letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, Buffett wrote the following: “In business, I look for economic castles protected by unbreachable moats.” The term “moat” refers to a competitive advantage, the quality or qualities that protect a business from its competitors.
There are many different types of competitive advantages. Apple possesses immense brand authority that not only keeps consumers loyal, but also affords the company a great deal of pricing power. Amazon Web Services offers a broader and deeper suite of cloud computing products than any other cloud provider. Nvidia can design more performant graphics chips and data center accelerators than other semiconductor companies. Costco Wholesale derives significant purchasing power from its scale, and its operating expertise further enhances that purchasing power.
All of those stocks have crushed the S&P 500’s return over the past decade, and investors can attribute those market-beating performances to the fact that each company possesses a durable competitive advantage.
Buy stocks within your circle of competence
In his 1996 letter to Berkshire shareholders, Buffett wrote the following:
You don’t have to be an expert on every company, or even many. You only have to be able to evaluate companies within your circle of competence. The size of that circle is not very important; knowing its boundaries, however, is vital.
Buffett expanded on that advice a few years later. In his 1999 letter to Berkshire shareholders, Buffett explained that he typically avoids investing in technology companies — despite knowing their products and services will transform the world — because he finds it difficult to identify competitive advantages in that sector. In other words, Buffett avoids technology stocks because they are beyond his circle of competence.
Think carefully before buying or selling a stock
Buffett once said, “An investor should act as though he [or she] had a lifetime decision card with just twenty punches on it.” Those words should not be taken literally — Berkshire owns far more than 20 stocks. Instead, Buffett is telling investors to think deeply about every decision. Never buy or sell a stock on a whim.
Knowledge can pay huge dividends
Buffett once said buying Benjamin Graham’s book, The Intelligent Investor, was the best investment he ever made (excluding two marriage licenses). Graham is viewed as the father of value investing, and his teachings formed the bedrock of Buffett’s investing style. The message here is simple: Never stop learning. An investment in knowledge can produce incredible returns.
John Mackey, former CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Trevor Jennewine has positions in Amazon.com and Nvidia. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Amazon.com, Apple, Berkshire Hathaway, Costco Wholesale, and Nvidia. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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