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Why Shares of Western Alliance Climbed 16.4% in April

By Lou Whiteman - May 4, 2019 at 4:25PM

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The bank makes its case it can thrive no matter what the Federal Reserve does.

What happened

Shares of Western Alliance Bancorporation (WAL 1.53%) climbed 16.4% in April, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence, after the bank holding company delivered a solid first-quarter earnings report, helping to alleviate some of the market's concerns about the company's outlook.

So what

Western Alliance, which is based in Arizona and also has operations in California and Nevada, on April 22 reported adjusted first quarter earnings of $1.16 per share, topping consensus expectations for $1.09 per share in earnings. The company's net interest margin for the quarter was 4.71%, topping the 4.66% figure it posted in the same quarter a year prior.

A banker shakes hands with customers.

Image source: Getty Images.

Credit quality also remained strong. Western Alliance nonperforming assets fell to 0.26% of total assets, down from 0.33% a year ago, and loan charge-offs remained low at 0.03% on an annualized basis.

The positive momentum in the shares following the earnings release was a reversal from recent sentiment. Shares of Western Alliance traded down 11.3% in March after the Federal Reserve took a dovish turn and indicated it was in no hurry to raise rates.

Western Alliance is viewed as a particularly attractive bank to own in a rising rate environment because of its focus on niche markets, including providing banking services to local governments, homeowners' associations, and hotel franchises, among others. Nearly half of its deposits are noninterest-bearing, meaning as rates rise, it can capture the lion's share of the upside instead of sharing it with deposit customers.

Now what

Western Alliance management, on a call with investors following earnings, said it believes net interest margin can stay steady throughout the year even without any further rate increases. That's an important counter to the narrative that the bank is better suited to a rising rate environment than it is a flat to falling rate period.

The bank has seen a number of business cycles over the past 20 years and has weathered the ups and down while keeping its margin spread pretty consistent. Coming out of a strong first quarter, there's no reason to believe Western Alliance can't keep the momentum going.

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Western Alliance Bancorporation
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