Gene Marcial's Inside Wall StreetThis is a banking David and Goliath kind of a story, with Signature Bank (SBNY), a tiny full-service bank operating in and around New York City, playing David. Signature has outperformed the giant supermajor institutions, including JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Bank of America (BAC). The pint-size Manhattan-based bank's market capitalization of $2 billion is dwarfed by JPMorgan's $161.5 billion and BofA's $126.4 billion.

Still, Signature has done far better for investors this year, rising from $30 a share in January to a 52-week high of more than $50 a share on Dec. 28. JPMorgan, on the other hand, swooned from a 52-week high of $48 in mid-April to $42, and BofA declined from a 52-week high of nearly $20 in mid-April to $13.

One explanation for this wide disparity stems from the financial meltdown, which resulted largely from the gigantic losses that the major financial houses suffered. In casino-like fashion, they took huge risks in derivatives, trading in notorious instruments such collateralized debt obligations.

Mainstream Banking Products

On the other hand, Signature's operations through its 23 offices in the metropolitan New York area can best be described as your basic, traditional and transparent type of banking: No derivatives or CDOs.

Signature focuses mainly on providing its small-business clients with mainstream banking products, including investment, brokerage and wealth-management services. Its total assets of $11 billion include deposits of $9 billion and $1.7 billion in assets under management. Signature has only about $4.9 billion in loans.

Signature's "deposit-driven and high-end lending business model remains intact despite the return to health of its larger New York City-based competitors," says Erik Oja, banking analyst at Standard & Poor's. Rating the stock a buy, he sees Signature's capital levels as strong relative to its peers, with nearly $920 million of tangible common equity -- equal to 8.41% of tangible assets. That, Oja says, is well above its peers.

"Strong Across the Board"


He figures that although Signature's stock is trading above its rivals on price-earnings multiples based on his 2010 and 2011 earnings estimates, the stock should trade at a significantly higher premium to its peers. Specifically, the analyst notes that Signature's growth rate and capital levels are well above those of its larger competitors. He forecasts the small bank will earn $2.48 a share in 2010 and $3.06 in 2011, way up from 2009's $1.31.

Signature's third-quarter results beat Wall Street's forecasts, demonstrating the bank's solid financials. Earnings for the quarter ended Sept. 30, 2010, jumped 80%, to $27.4 million, or 66 cents a share, from $15.2 million, or 37 cents a share, a year ago.

"The results were strong across the board, with better earnings asset growth than we modeled," says Bob Ramsey, analyst at FBR Capital markets, who rates the stock as outperform. Signature's continued significant growth "underscores the strength of its unique strategy and business model in an environment where most depositary institutions aren't growing or are even shrinking their balance sheets," says Ramsey. In fact, Signature's deposits grew 7% sequentially in the quarter and climbed 33% from a year ago.

Higher Stock Target

President and CEO Joseph J. DePaolo attributes the bank's success in winning new core clients away from some of its competitors to the company's "quality of service and strong financial condition." Signature places its priorities, he argues, "on depositor safety, first and foremost."

Jason O'Donnell, analyst at investment firm Boenning & Scattergood, notes that for the first time since the economic downturn began, Signature's "credit quality showed unmistakable signs of improvement." So, O'Donnell recently raised his price target for the stock to $55 from $46.

Evidently, Signature has proved that sticking to its small corner of a gargantuan industry enables it to provide effective banking services to its clients, thereby producing sizable earnings growth and enhancing shareholder value.

Indeed, investing in a small bank focusing on a niche market as large and as challenging as New York City and delivering traditional banking the old-fashioned way may be the best way to cash in on financial institutions.


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15 Comments

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GAYLEN

This show us that small is better than large. Just think the GOP captialism is base on the few get the profits and when they do bad, the general public pays it.

December 30 2010 at 9:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
RMS

All the banks want to do these days is sell, sell, sell. Every employee of every branch is instructed to open new accounts and sell services whether the customer wants them or not. I know people who have been fired from their bank branch jobs because they didn't meet monthly quotas, not for not doing their job properly.

December 29 2010 at 6:25 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
dterraman

7.8 million mortgages are 30, 60, or 90 days late

December 29 2010 at 6:08 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
bhorne01

Agreed but Parke Bank (PKBK) has out performed them (Signature) on every front / evaluation method. Small banks will see a huge rise in stock prices during 2011.

December 29 2010 at 4:07 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
scottee

this is what we need in Washington...get back to basics...put the dollar back on the gold standard...pay off the national debt...make government smaller....taxes fewer and simple and fair (see fairtax.org) and free markets.

December 29 2010 at 3:35 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
ThinkUp70

It's about time that citizens head to smaller banks where the teller knows your name and happy to give some service. The big banks are all about cattle rustling to see how many of their clients that they can "brand", to fill their coffers.

December 29 2010 at 3:31 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
inthenoose1

Big banks. Big bonuses. Big trouble.

December 29 2010 at 3:07 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to inthenoose1's comment
scottee

big government...big trouble...also...

December 29 2010 at 3:36 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply
Vince

This guy has some great points about the banks. Theres a book that actually talks about our current banking problems that I read the other day. It's called "Life After Foreclosure" by Dean Wegner. Great article by the way!

December 29 2010 at 11:14 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
teamsolano

Banks are the problem. They created this financial meltdown, used taxpayer funds to keep themselves wealthy and are not part of any recovery solution. I can't believe that no one has been prosecuted for this mess. Millions are suffering financially and yet these banking giants are still living large as fat cats. Hurray for small basic banks, this is the future for consumers. Regulate their options for making money and their size. FDR did it and America recovered for almost 75 years until politicians repealed these consumer regulations.

December 29 2010 at 10:31 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to teamsolano's comment
Trevor

Banks have no capacity to force taxpayers to part with their resources. Only knuckle-dagging goons from Foggy Bottom have the capacity to confiscate the fruits of citizens labor.

December 29 2010 at 2:46 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
PAULA

It's good to see that some one has finaly gotten back to what banking is supposed to be, service has alway's been the name of the game no matter who you were and what level of income you had, the banking industry used to be about helping people to do what was best for their particular situation, not if you were a high roller you got treated differntly, from the so called common person who in reality made this country what it is today. I think the big to big to fail banks got to where they just wanted to deal with the high roller and look where it got them. Should I find one of these's smaller banks around here I wouls much rather deal with one of them.

December 29 2010 at 10:01 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to PAULA's comment
dmfischetti

The old saying "Less is More"" couldn't be more true.

December 29 2010 at 11:52 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply