The more I dig into the industry, the more I see reasons for individual investors to pay a little more attention to small regional and community banks. They often have good insider ownership, pay nice little dividends, and seem disproportionately likely to get bought out by larger banks. You shouldn't ever expect to make a killing, and you should always do careful due diligence. But owning a good little bank can be much less harrowing than playing tech or energy ideas.
That said, not all little banks are alike. Looking at Atlanta's Main Street Bank
Net interest margin fell a bit in the quarter but still came in at a very respectable 4.26%. Average net loan balances grew 9% (not so great), while average deposit balances grew 7.5%. Main Street's interest costs for deposits were more than 3%, and that's part of what concerns me about this bank. When you have to pay too much for deposits, there can be pressure to take too many chances to earn that back on the lending or investing side.
In fact, this company is still recovering from some questionable lending decisions that inflated charge-offs and loan losses in the prior quarters. Charge-offs were down considerably from the second quarter (0.21% vs. 0.86%), and the company has improved its operational controls to prevent a repeat performance.
Main Street certainly has some positives working for it. Atlanta is an attractive market, and the company seems to have learned from its recent mistakes. Nevertheless, I expect companies in this situation to be trading for less than their peers, not more. Without a good bargain, I don't see any particular reason to walk down Main Street today. With banking investment options ranging from Citigroup
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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).