Lesser-Known TARP Warrants: SunTrust Banks

In previous articles I've discussed the warrants issued by larger banks such as Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo to the Treasury as part of the TARP program. But while these warrants grab the most attention, there are other TARP warrants that are less known but are still important to consider.

Southern bank
SunTrust Banks
(NYSE: STI  ) is an $18 billion financial institution with a major southern presence. Based in Atlanta, SunTrust has branches across the south and has a substantial Florida branch network.

Like many banks, SunTrust shares were hit hard after the mortgage meltdown, and its strong Florida presence increased Suntrust's exposure to the Florida real estate market. But for those seeing a rebound opportunity in SunTrust, TARP offers two new ways to play a recovery.

Warrants
SunTrust has two classes of warrants issued to the Treasury. SunTrust Class A warrants (NYSE: STI-AW  ) have a strike price of $33.70 and expire Dec. 31, 2018. SunTrust Class B warrants (NYSE: STI-BW  ) have a strike price of $44.15 and expire Nov. 14, 2018. Both classes of warrants have relatively low daily volumes traded compared with most other TARP warrants, so investors should consider this lessened liquidity when deciding whether to invest. Additionally, in low-liquidity situations like this, setting limit orders as opposed to market orders should help to ensure a better entrance price.

With shares of SunTrust closing at $33.51 on Oct. 12, the Class A warrants are near-the-money and the Class B warrants are out-of-the-money requiring a nearly 32% gain in the share price to meet the exercise price of the Class B warrants. That being said, such a gain isn't impossible. SunTrust is well below its pre-recession highs and has some positives going forward.

Lawsuit settlement
Recently, SunTrust settled a set of legal disputes involving mortgage handling for total payments of over $1 billion. Although this sounds like a lot of money, it takes care of a lot of uncertain outcomes by resolving disputes with multiple federal departments as well as mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The settling of legacy lawsuits should be seen as a positive for banks in general, since it clears up uncertainty that prevents many conservative investors from buying. So the sooner these legal issues are cleaned up, the sooner SunTrust can begin to attract these investors again.

Florida market
Because of its branch locations and general strategy, SunTrust has a large Florida network and, consequently, major exposure to the Florida market. While much of this worked against SunTrust as the real estate market collapsed, it could be a boost for the bank if the Florida real estate market begins to roar again.

Not only would a stronger Florida market increase demand for mortgages and other loans, but it would also make existing mortgages more valuable and increase the ability of insolvent borrowers to complete a successful short sale.

Lesser-known leverage
SunTrust offers banking exposure more concentrated in the southern United States and many coastal markets. After being hit hard by the mortgage meltdown, SunTrust is rebuilding operations and settling legacy lawsuits.

Investors looking to get greater long-term exposure to this bank should look at SunTrust's Class A and B warrants and see whether this added leverage is right for their portfolio.

Notes on warrants
SunTrust warrants, and many other warrants, aren't listed under a consistent ticker symbol across every brokerage platform. For many platforms, typing "SunTrust Banks" will bring up the warrants among the search results. If you can't find the warrants on your platform, calling your broker is likely to resolve the issue.

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