The trickiest part of investing in turnarounds is figuring out when the company has hit bottom and it's safe to come into the stock. Sometimes, the situation reminds me of a Garfield cartoon that I have tacked to my wall -- "Every time I think I've hit rock bottom, somebody throws me a shovel."
I first began sniffing around super-regional bank Fifth Third
First things first. Net income sank 7% for the quarter, though the company did manage to just beat the mean estimate. Both net interest income and non-interest income were weak in the quarter, the former dropping 2% and the latter dropping 15%.
None of the commonly used ratios looked very pretty, either. Return on assets fell to 1.63% (from 1.91%), return on equity dropped by nearly 3 percentage points (to 18.1%), the efficiency ratio worsened from 48.8% to 52.2%, and the net interest margin shrank by 25 basis points.
The news doesn't get a whole lot better on the balance sheet. Excluding acquisitions, core deposits grew only 9%, and average transaction account balances grew just 6%. What's more, there was a shift in the quarter toward higher-cost deposit types. On the loans side, commercial loans grew 12% (again, excluding acquisitions), and non-mortgage consumer loans increased 8%.
Simply put, that sort of performance will not get the job done. One positive, though, is that management seems pretty willing to acknowledge that this wasn't an especially strong quarter. I know that may seem like cold comfort to some investors, but I don't how to expect a management team to fix a problem if it won't at least recognize that a problem exists.
While things may look a little dicey right now, I'll still be monitoring this company for signs of a turnaround. This company has a strong history of growth and sound management, and these current troubles may end up being little more than a bump in the road. What's more, a 3% dividend yield isn't bad compensation for investors willing to wait out the uncertainties.
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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).