What: Shares of Regions Financial (NYSE:RF), a consumer and commercial bank and financial solutions company operating in the southern United States, crashed by 18% in January according to data from S&P Capital IQ following unexpectedly weak fourth-quarter earnings results.
So what: For the quarter, Regions Financial delivered $1.27 billion in revenue, down 7% from the $1.36 billion it reported in Q4 2013, as net interest income and especially fee-based income both fell year over year. Profit per share also sank to $0.14 from $0.16 in the year-ago quarter. Comparably, Wall Street was looking for $0.21 in EPS and $1.3 billion in revenue, so this was a disappointing miss.
Regions Financial's net interest income declined by $12 million from the year-ago period to $820 million largely as a result of a low interest rate environment and a nine basis point decline in net interest margin to 3.17% from Q4 2013. Fee-based income declined $78 million to $448 million for the quarter, pressured by weakness in its mortgage division. Regions noted lower gains from loan sales and a drop in its market valuation for its mortgage servicing portfolio net of its hedging activity.
Akin to salt being poured on the wound, Regions Financial was also downgraded by research firm Wunderlich Securities shortly after its earnings report to hold from buy with its price target slashed to $10 from $13. Wunderlich analyst Kevin Reynolds cited continued low interest rates as a reason why Regions may struggle to improve its profits in 2015.
Now what: It certainly wasn't a banner quarter for Regions Financial, but it's not as if the rest of the banking sector did much better. In fact, there were actually a few notable highlights buried within its results.
For example, total deposits increased $70 million from the sequential third quarter while a more favorable mix of deposits continued to reduce its expenses. Regions notes that low-cost deposits increased by $242 million while interest-bearing CD deposits declined $172 million, likely as a result of today's low interest rate environment.
Additionally, total loan balances rose 1% from the sequential third quarter to $77 billion. Out of these loans, Regions apportioned just $8 million for loan loss reserves in Q4 compared to $79 million in Q4 2013. It also witnessed a 25 basis point decline in total net charge-off percentage from the prior-year quarter to 0.42%.
Although challenges clearly remain, Regions' forward P/E of 10, its 2.3% dividend yield, and the fact that it's trading at roughly three-quarters of book value lead me to believe this is a stock headed higher over the long term. A patient investor looking for a bank sector bargain would be wise to give Regions Financial a closer look.