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Why First Niagara Financial Shares Swooned

By Sean Williams – Jan 24, 2014 at 3:37PM

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First Niagara shares head down-river after the company dishes out its fiscal 2014 forecast.

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

What: Shares of First Niagara Financial Group (NASDAQ: FNFG), a holding company whose subsidiary First Niagara Bank provides retail and commercial banking services in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, sank as much as 12% after fourth-quarter earnings results were released.

So what: First Niagara Financial said it delivered $0.20 in generally accepted accounting principles earnings per share for the quarter. Average loans were up an annualized 9% quarter over quarter, noninterest checking balances rose by 8% on an annualized quarter-over-quarter basis, and nonperforming loans stood at just 0.93% by quarter's end, up four basis points from the year-ago period. Despite this strong organic loan growth, First Niagara disappointed investors and Wall Street by forecasting fiscal 2014 EPS of $0.72-$0.75, which is below the consensus estimate of $0.79.

Now what: While not what shareholders expected to hear from First Niagara given the recent strength seen in the banking industry, I view today's dip as a potential buying opportunity. If there is a U.S. region where growth is going to stagnate, it's the Northeast, so consider First Niagara's location a bit of an impediment. However, the company's $1 billion purchase of HSBC's New York branches in 2012 should give it considerably more visible consumer presence in the state once the transaction's costs are sufficiently in the rearview mirror. With an exceptional dividend, and the company trading well below its $13.31 book value, I will be adding this to my own personal watchlist right now.

Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.

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