Editor's note: A previous version of this article was not clear about the timing of First Niagara'' dividend reduction. The Fool regrets the error.
First Niagara Financial Group (Nasdaq: FNFG ) reported earnings for its third quarter this morning, and despite a slight beat on EPS expectations, its stock has been relatively flat so far. With analysts expecting $0.18 in earnings per share, the bank checked in with $0.19, primarily driven by strong lending numbers, which showed a 17% increase in commercial loans over the prior quarter.
What I was watching
In addition to the standard metrics referenced above, I was also watching for continued integration of the branches purchased this year from HSBC (NYSE: HBC ) . With a larger geographic footprint, the bank has access to a lot of new markets. Unfortunately, total deposits were down slightly to a total of $27.7 billion, but the difference was not significant enough to cause major alarm.
What to expect going forward
In December of last year, First Niagara cut its dividend, so on a year-over-year basis investors are looking at a smaller quarterly check. That cut was made in part to build its capital levels after the acquisition of the branches from HSBC. Nevertheless, it seems committed to returning its dividend to its once-lofty peak, though I don't know if that is something that will happen next quarter or later.
First Niagara is just another opportunity among the crowded sector that is regional banks. In fact, some of the best opportunities over the next few years can be found there, including one small, under-the-radar bank. It's been called one of the stocks only the smartest investors are buying. You can learn about it, and more, in our exclusive free report. Just click here to keep reading.