M&T Bank (MTB -0.57%) turned in disappointing second-quarter results last month as the bank continues to deal with loans affected by the pandemic as well as muted loan growth. Investors have been wary of the stock this year (the price is up only about 8.4%), while many bank indexes are up more than 20% year to date.

As a result, the struggles of M&T have brought the bank down to a historically low valuation that makes this a potentially good time for interested investors to buy in on the stock. Here's why.

A tough second quarter

The regional bank (it manages $150 billion in assets) generated diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $3.41 on total revenue of $1.47 billion in the second quarter. Both EPS and revenue missed analysts' expectations for the quarter.

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There were some one-time expenses baked into the quarter, including $4 million related to M&T Bank's acquisition of People's United Financial (PBCT), which will propel M&T past $200 billion in assets when the deal is complete. Without such expenses, M&T would have generated diluted operating EPS of $3.45, which still would have come up short of analysts' consensus of $3.60 for the quarter. Net interest income for the quarter, which is essentially the profit made on loans and securities, fell 4% from the first quarter of the year. Loan growth continues to be very hard to find across the banking industry, but even more so for M&T, which is mainly a commercial lender -- consumer lending is seeing more momentum than the commercial side.

Additionally, M&T is unique in that it continues to see credit quality heading in the wrong direction. In the second quarter, the bank saw its nonaccrual loans, those that have gone 90 days without receiving a payment, climb 15% from the first quarter of the year. CFO Darren King also said that the bank expects to disclose in its second-quarter regulatory filing an increase in criticized loans, which are not necessarily past due but have given the bank reason to believe they could be headed that way. King attributed the rise in nonaccrual loans to "the prolonged recovery in certain sectors of the economy, notably hospitality and healthcare." M&T Bank also released only $15 million from its reserve capital built up for loan losses back as profits in the quarter, which is a lot less than many of its peers.

Expenses at the bank in Q2 rose more than 7% year over year, and King said there could be some pressure on expenses for the remainder of the year. King said that excluding one-time expenses like those related to the acquisition of People's United, he expects core operating expenses for the year to be 3% to 5% higher than in 2020, mainly because of items such as corporate incentives and expenses related to fee income growth. 

Some optimism on credit

While credit is concerning, there are reasons to remain optimistic. Net charge-offs (debt unlikely to be collected and a good indicator of actual losses) continued to fall in the quarter, and King said the bank is seeing some good signs for loans in its hard-hit sectors.

For criticized loans, King said that while certain properties are struggling, many are still earning interest because the loan sponsors have outside sources of funding to support the deals. King also said that appraisals on underlying properties in its criticized and nonaccrual loans have remained strong. Occupancy rates in the bank's hotel portfolio are up across the board, but not yet at pre-pandemic levels, he said, largely due to the continued lack of business travel. King believes that as vacancy rates and revenue per available room pick up, those assets should revert from criticized to performing. Obviously, there are risks of this not happening due to the surging delta variant of the coronavirus, but M&T has traditionally been a pretty conservative bank when it comes to credit, so I'm not ready to panic just yet. 

We also know that M&T has underwritten its hotel and retail loans fairly conservatively. Last year, the bank disclosed that the average loan-to-value (LTV) ratio, which essentially tells you how much equity a borrower has put into a property, came in at 53% in M&T's hotel portfolio and 57% in the retail portfolio. That means that borrowers put down 47% and 43% of equity, respectively, on the property at origination. In New York City, where retail and hotels got hit particularly hard at the beginning of the pandemic, the LTVs are even better, in the low 40s.

People's United acquisition

Other good signs are that M&T Bank continues to grow non-interest-bearing deposits, those it pays no interest on, nicely, with non-interest-bearing deposits in Q2 up nearly 4% from the sequential quarter. These deposits now make up roughly 43% of total deposits.

The last reason to remain positive is M&T's upcoming acquisition of People's United, a bank based in Connecticut with roughly $60 billion in assets. The addition of People's United is going to significantly enlarge M&T and create a very dense footprint between Buffalo, N.Y.,  Washington, D.C., and Boston. The acquisition will immediately increase M&T's tangible book value (TBV), which is equity minus goodwill and intangible assets. Banks trade based on TBV, so a growing TBV typically helps the stock.

The deal is also supposed to boost M&T's EPS by 10% to 12% in 2023. The deal should open up some new revenue opportunities as well because People's United has lots of small business commercial customers, which M&T does very well with in its own markets. M&T can cross-sell a lot of its fee income products to these customers, while People's United brings a solid equipment financing business that it can expand to M&T customers.

Getting in at a good valuation

Currently, M&T is trading at about 161% to TBV, which is low for the bank historically -- it has traded this low over the past decade only during the pandemic.

MTB Price to Tangible Book Value Chart

MTB Price to Tangible Book Value data by YCharts

M&T is also a bank that regularly puts up a strong return on equity, the technical rate of return the company makes on its capital.

MTB Return on Equity Chart

MTB Return on Equity data by YCharts

While credit quality is the big question, and it's never good to see nonaccrual and criticized loans rising, I do think the bank is likely acting conservatively right now, as it has in the past. I also think that commercial lending will eventually pick up (although likely not this year). There's also the acquisition of People's United, which gives M&T increased scale, and the fact that this is the same bank with the same management team and the same business model that has been successful for a long time now.

While there may be some short-term pain, this is an opportunity to buy a long-standing, strong-performing bank stock at a historically low valuation.