I'm going to come right out and say it: I believe New York Community Bancorp (NYSE:NYCB) is one of the best publically traded regional banks in the country today. While I don't currently own shares in it, I soon will. What follows are three of the reasons why.
An insidious trend has crept into the capital allocation strategies of far too many corporations over the last half century. As my colleague Morgan Housel has noted, public companies used to pay out the majority of their earnings as dividends. Beginning in the 1960s, however, the dividend payout ratio on the S&P 500 began sliding from over 60% down to less than 30% today.
Companies are instead using their excess capital to fund share buybacks. While this may seem kosher at first blush, as repurchasing shares ostensibly increases the value of the remaining shares, most buyback programs are a total and complete waste of money. To use one of Morgan's examples in a subsequent article, after JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) repurchased billions of dollars of its own shares in the middle of 2011, its shares fell more than 25%. "Yes, it would have been wise to wait," said CEO Jamie Dimon at the time. "We're sorry."
So why do corporate executives do this? I'm sorry to break it to you, but they typically do it simply to pad their own pockets. To cite Morgan one last time, despite management's claim that buybacks are a means of "returning money to shareholders," the reality is that a large portion of the repurchased shares simply offset shares issued to management. Pretty smooth move eh?
As a result, when you come across a company that voluntarily pays out a large portion of their earnings via dividends, it's much more reasonable to conclude that the company's executives actually have the shareholders' interests in mind more than their own. And such is the case with New York Community Bancorp, which passes anywhere between 80% and 100% of its earnings along to shareholders each quarter.
Judging the quality of a particular company's management is an inexact science at best. While there are any number of quantitative metrics that can be used to this end, let's be honest, the numbers can be manipulated to say whatever the management wants them to say. It's for this reason, in turn, that the best way to gauge the quality and sincerity of a company's leadership is to listen to their quarterly conference calls.
As I noted in our in-depth report on New York Community Bancorp:
[E]xecutives both in and outside of the financial industry could learn a lot about how to run a professional and informative conference call from New York Community Bancorp 's chief financial officer Thomas Cangemi and longtime chief executive officer Joseph Ficalora. They present highly pertinent information and don't obfuscate by editorializing about the state of the economy or the company's intangible accomplishments. They back up pointed answers from analysts with pointed responses supported by facts and figures. And they demonstrate a unique grasp of the specifics of their operation, showing that they haven't detached themselves from the proverbial front lines.
Beyond this, to say that Ficalora has a vested interest in seeing New York Community Bancorp succeed would be an egregious understatement. He's dedicated his entire professional life to the lender, working his way up the ranks since 1965. And along the way, he's accumulated a massive amount of stock in the company -- roughly $70 million worth. Finally, unlike the former executives at, say, Citigroup (NYSE:C), Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), or Huntington Bancshares (NASDAQ:HBAN), Ficalora responsibly resisted the siren song of the subprime mortgage market during the excesses of the housing bubble.
The final reason to invest in New York Community Bancorp is that, beyond its generous dividend and responsible management, it offers investors a massive opportunity for growth. There's one thing that sticks out when you look at the bank's balance sheet: It relies to a large extent on warehouse financing to fund its $44 billion in assets -- or $13 billion worth of such financing to be precise. While the bad news is that this increases its cost of funds, and thus decreases its pivotal net interest margin, the good news is that it's easily fixable.
As I discuss in the previously mentioned in-depth report, all New York Community Bancorp needs to do is increase its deposits. And the best way to do this quickly and efficiently is through an acquisition. Not surprising, in turn, this is precisely what Ficalora appears to be contemplating. On the company's third-quarter earnings call, in response to a question about a "sizable transaction" occurring within the next year, Ficalora said that "the idea that we would entertain the opportunity to do a deal is very real." Thus, it's not so much a question of if New York Community Bancorp will do a deal, but rather, when it will do one.
The Foolish bottom line
At the end of the day, I'm not saying that you should or should not buy shares of New York Community Bancorp. What I am saying, however, is that you should at least consider it if you're looking at either buying shares in a financial company or on the hunt for a stable and generous dividend yield. For the reasons cited above, as well as those identified in our in-depth report on the bank, I believe there's a place for it in virtually every investor's portfolio. To access this report instantly, simply click here now.