An opportunity to pick up a good international bank might be brewing. Bancolombia
What Bancolombia lacks in size, it makes up for in results and diversity. Unlike many small banks, Bancolombia's operations are fairly diverse. In addition to traditional deposit and lending, the bank offers credit cards, pension and trust services, and leasing, and it also has operations in Panama. Competitively, Bancolombia and Banco de Bogata control most of the banking seen in Colombia, but Citigroup
Bancolombia, however, isn't a market darling at the moment, because earnings growth has slowed down in recent quarters. It didn't get any better with the company's first-quarter results. Inflation remained high and interest rates have followed, putting a short-term crimp on net interest income. This caused Bancolombia's interest expense to rise more quickly than its interest income (22% vs. 19%) and net interest income to rise only 17.5%. This is still fairly rapid growth, but operating expense growth also outpaced non-interest income, and other income declined, leaving the bank with net income 6.6% lower than last year's first quarter.
Income declined, but Bancolombia is still quite profitable. It is earning healthy returns, with return on equity and return on assets of 22.06% and 2.28% respectively. Both are above-average results for a bank. Bancolombia's deposit growth also remains very healthy, with total deposits increasing 32% in comparison to last year and 4.4% compared to last quarter. It also helps that the bank continues to pay an average cost of less than 4% for its deposits. One of the few problems with its financials is the slow growth in income from fees and services the past few years, which would add some stability to earnings.
My biggest beef with Bancolombia has been that, after considering the above-average growth rates in Colombia, the valuation isn't adequate, given the specific risks of operating in Colombia and the bank's opaque ownership structure. However, if the shares continue to fall, that will change -- and the attractive 3.4% yield will become even more rewarding.
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