Susquehanna Bancshare's (NASDAQ: SUSQ ) fourth-quarter earnings of $0.23 per share were good enough to push the stock up more than 2% during yesterday's trading. But that earnings tally is in the past. What's really important about Susquehanna's release was what it says about the future, and I think savvy investors are looking at three reasons Susquehanna is now an even better buy than it was before.
1. Net interest margin improvement
Unlike some of the other banks that have reported earnings over the past few weeks, Susquehanna actually saw a significant increase in its net interest margin during the fourth quarter. Net interest margin for the quarter was 4.06%, a 14 basis point improvement from the third quarter.For the full year, the net interest margin improved by 41 basis points, improving to 4.01% from 3.6% at the end of 2011.
2. Dividend increases
Over the course of the year, Susquehanna has quietly increased its quarterly dividend from $0.03 per share to $0.07 per share, boosting its yield in the process. The bank now yields a respectable 2.5% and has plenty of room to grow, with only 36.4% of last year's earnings paid out in dividends. Though the bank is far from its pre-crisis dividend payments, it appears to be at least committed to returning income to shareholders, and I see no indication that it plans to stop.
3. Continuing improvement in asset quality
Nonperforming assets at the bank has been on a steady decline over the past 12 months, with each subsequent quarter showing improvement. Nonperforming assets were $197.5 million at the end of 2011, or around 1.3% of total assets. This quarter, nonperforming assets were down to $124 million, a decline of just over 37%. Even more impressive is that total assets have grownduring the same period, so nonperforming assets now make up only 0.69% of total assets. This is quite impressive and will only help the performance of the bank going forward.
Foolish bottom line
While I think it is important to pay attention to earnings releases, sometimes the market's reaction to them can create new opportunities in a stock that could still have some positive qualities. That's why it is important to look beyond the top- and bottom-line numbers to see if there is something you might be missing.
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