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Edited Transcript of CATY earnings conference call or presentation 22-Jan-20 11:00pm GMT

Q4 2019 Cathay General Bancorp Earnings Call

Los Angeles Jan 27, 2020 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Cathay General Bancorp earnings conference call or presentation Wednesday, January 22, 2020 at 11:00:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Georgia Lo

Cathay General Bancorp - Assistant Secretary

* Heng W. Chen

Cathay General Bancorp - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer

* Pin Tai

Cathay General Bancorp - CEO & Director

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Conference Call Participants

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* Aaron James Deer

Piper Sandler & Co., Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst

* Christopher Edward McGratty

Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - MD

* David John Chiaverini

Wedbush Securities Inc., Research Division - Senior Analyst

* Gary Peter Tenner

D.A. Davidson & Co., Research Division - Senior VP & Senior Research Analyst

* Lana Chan

BMO Capital Markets Equity Research - MD & Senior Equity Analyst

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Cathay General Bancorp's Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2019 Earnings Conference Call. My name is Latif, and I'll be your coordinator for today. (Operator Instructions). Today's call is being recorded and will be available for replay at www.cathaygeneralbancorp.com.

Now I'd like to turn the call over to Georgia Lo, Investor Relations of Cathay General Bancorp.

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Georgia Lo, Cathay General Bancorp - Assistant Secretary [2]

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Thank you, Latif, and good afternoon. Here to discuss the financial results today are Mr. Pin Tai, our Chief Executive Officer; and Mr. Heng Chen, our Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer.

Before we begin, we wish to remind you that the speakers on this call may make forward-looking statements within the meaning of the applicable provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 concerning future results and events and that these statements are subject to certain risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially.

These results and uncertainties are further described in the company's annual report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2018, at item 1A in particular, and in the other reports and filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission from time to time.

As such, we caution you not to place undue reliance on such forward-looking statements, which speaks only as of the date of this presentation. We undertake no obligation to update any forward-looking statements or to publicly announce any revision of any forward-looking statements to reflect future developments or events, except as required by law.

This afternoon, Cathay General Bancorp issued an earnings release outlining its fourth quarter and year-end 2019 results. To obtain a copy, please visit our website at www.cathaygeneralbancorp.com.

After comments on management today, we will open up this call for questions. I will now turn the call over to our Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Pin Tai.

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Pin Tai, Cathay General Bancorp - CEO & Director [3]

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Thank you, Georgia, and good afternoon. Welcome to our 2019 Fourth Quarter Earnings Conference Call. This afternoon, we reported net income of $67.4 million for the fourth quarter of 2019, a 4.3% increase when compared to net income of $64.6 million for the fourth quarter of 2018.

Diluted earnings per share increased by 5% to $0.84 for the fourth quarter of 2019 compared to $0.80 per share for the same quarter a year ago.

In the fourth quarter of 2019, our gross loans grew by $346.9 million to $15.1 billion or an increase of 9.9% on an annualized basis. The increase in loans for the fourth quarter of 2019 was primarily driven by the growth in commercial real estate loans of $139.7 million or 8.3% annualized, commercial loans of $110.7 million or 16.1% annualized, and residential mortgage loans of $77.8 million or 8.4% annualized. We anticipate loan growth in 2020 of between 6% to 7%. For the fourth quarter of 2019, our total deposits grew slightly by $34 million or 1% annualized to $14.7 billion.

During the fourth quarter of 2019, money market deposits grew by $165.4 million or 32.6% annualized, NOW deposits grew by $75.9 million or 22% annualized, while current deposits decreased by $176.2 million. With respect to the now partially resolved trade dispute between the U.S. and China, we continue to monitor and evaluate its potential impact of the continuing tariff for our loan portfolio. More or less that we believe could be adversely impacted by the current tariffs for approximately 2% of our total loans.

With that, I'll turn the floor over to our Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Heng Chen, to discuss the fourth quarter 2019 financials in more detail.

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Heng W. Chen, Cathay General Bancorp - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [4]

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Thank you, Kim, and good afternoon, everyone. For the fourth quarter, we announced net income of $67.4 million or $0.84 diluted earnings per share.

Our net interest margin was 3.34% in the fourth quarter of 2019 as compared to 3.77% in the fourth quarter of 2018 and 3.56% for the third quarter of 2019. Excess liquidity during the fourth quarter reduced the NIM by 2 basis points.

In the fourth quarter of 2019, interest recoveries and prepayment penalties added 4 basis points to the net interest margin compared to 3 basis points for the fourth quarter of 2018 and 12 basis points for the third quarter of 2019. We expect our net interest margin for 2020 to be between 3.35% and 3.45%.

Noninterest income during the fourth quarter of 2019 decreased by $2.1 million to $8.7 million when compared to the fourth quarter of 2018. This decrease was primarily due to a $4 million decrease in net gains from equity securities and partially offset by a $1.3 million increase in wealth management fees.

Noninterest expense decreased by $3.2 million or 4.3% to $71.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2019 when compared to $74.4 million in the same quarter a year ago. This decrease was primarily due to a $5.7 million decrease in the amortization of investments in low-income housing and alternative energy partnerships, partially offset by a $1.2 million increase in FDIC and State assessments.

The effective tax rate for the fourth quarter of 2019 was 19.5% and 20.1% for the full year of 2019. The effective tax rate for the first quarter of 2020 is expected to be approximately 20%, with the full year 2020 effective tax rate to be between 18% to 18.5%, assuming the closing of another solar tax credit investment in the second quarter of 2020.

Solar tax credit amortization was $6 million in the fourth quarter of 2019 and $17.4 million for the full year of 2019. Solar tax credit amortization is expected to be approximately $24 million in 2020, including a $10 million of amortization from the proposed new investment, which we expect to close in the second quarter. The amortization expense is expected to be $8 million in the first quarter of 2020 then $5.3 million in the -- in each of the last 3 quarters of 2020.

At December 31, 2019, our Tier 1 leverage capital ratio was 10.83%, the same as at December 21, 2018 (sic) [December 31, 2018]. Our Tier 1 risk-based capital ratio increased to 12.51% from 12.43% at December 31, 2018, and our total risk-based capital ratio decreased to 14.11% from 14.15% at December 31, 2018.

Net recoveries for the fourth quarter of 2019 were $2.3 million compared to net recoveries of $5.3 million in the third quarter of 2019 and net charge-offs of $1.1 million in the fourth quarter of 2018.

There was a loan loss reversal of $5 million for the fourth quarter of 2019 compared to a loan loss reversal of $2 million in the third quarter of 2019 and no loan loss provision or reversal in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Our nonaccrual loans decreased by $6.7 million to $40.5 million or 0.27% of period-end loans as compared to the end of third quarter of 2019.

Pin, please continue now.

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Pin Tai, Cathay General Bancorp - CEO & Director [5]

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Thank you, Heng. We will now proceed to the question-and-answer portion of the call.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions) Your first question comes from Chris McGratty of KBW.

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Christopher Edward McGratty, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - MD [2]

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Heng, I'm interested in the assumptions behind the 2020 margin of 3.35% to 3.45%, especially related to where we're starting in Q4. Could you provide kind of your rate -- interest rate assumptions and whether this will be primarily a function of dropping the deposit costs further? Or maybe the factors that go into that?

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Heng W. Chen, Cathay General Bancorp - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [3]

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Yes, Chris, we are assuming no further -- no changes in the prime rate in 2020. And I think the biggest factor for the -- for our guidance is that in the first quarter, we have $2.6 billion of a relatively higher cost CDs. The cost is -- the average cost of these maturing CDs is 2.2%, and we expect to renew them at no higher than 1.8%. And these represent roughly 34% of our total CD portfolio. And this first quarter renewal should by itself add 8 basis points or improve the NIM by 8 basis points.

And then secondarily, I mentioned in my remarks that we had 2 basis points of excess liquidity. So offsetting by all that would be some loss of rate as loans mature from our existing portfolio.

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Christopher Edward McGratty, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - MD [4]

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Okay. Great. And then maybe a question on provisioning, given the implementation of CECL. In light of your 6% to 7% loan growth, how do you view the provision expense for 2020, given the change in accounting and given the pipeline in recoveries?

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Heng W. Chen, Cathay General Bancorp - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [5]

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Well, we think we're not quite -- we're still working on CECL. We've had 1.5 dry runs, we're in. And so we're learning about that. I think we have not given guidance on the day 1 adjustment, which would be for a moderate increase in the ALLL, but we think in terms of provisioning that it would be just a little bit less than 1% of net loan growth, and that's in terms of our thinking on that 6% to 7% loan growth, a portion of that is residential mortgage. So that would be reserve debt at a lower rate than the rest of our loan portfolio.

And then lastly, we had recoveries for several quarters this year. Under CECL, we have to -- our companies have to book an asset for any probable recoveries of loans that were charged off before December 31, 2019. But based on our pending litigation, collection litigation outlook, we think we have a couple of prospects for C&I recoveries in 2020. So -- and then, credit-wise, right now, it looks pretty benign to us. So that's sort of our outlook. We're not going to give more detailed guidance than that because nobody -- the crystal ball is never perfect.

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Christopher Edward McGratty, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - MD [6]

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That's helpful. And just one more and I'll step back. The low-income housing tax credits, could you provide what that might be in 2020 as well?

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Heng W. Chen, Cathay General Bancorp - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [7]

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The amortization should be slightly or about the same as in 2019. That would be about $5.5 million a quarter.

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Operator [8]

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Your next question comes from Aaron Deer of Piper Sandler & Co.

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Aaron James Deer, Piper Sandler & Co., Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst [9]

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I'm just curious with Phase 1 of the trade deal now complete, I'd like to get your thoughts on what that means prospectively for you and your clients? And what that might mean for the loan mix heading into 2020? Seems like you had pretty strong growth in commercial real estate and C&I heading into year-end. I'm just wondering if -- how that might be part of the mix relative to single-family in 2020?

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Heng W. Chen, Cathay General Bancorp - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [10]

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Yes. Well, let me start and Pin can give the more macro guidance. In terms of looking at 2020, we think our residential mortgage growth will be slower than in the past because our mortgage book is so high. And then you might not have caught it but the group of loans that will impact -- that might be impacted by the tariffs had dropped to 2% of our total loan portfolio. So -- and then I think lastly, in terms of Q4 loan growth, there wasn't that much -- seasonally, it's a slow quarter for trade finance.

Pin, do you want to talk about 2020, the outlook for...

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Pin Tai, Cathay General Bancorp - CEO & Director [11]

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The outlook for '20 looks better than 2019, given that we've completed the signing of the first round of the agreement. However, the second one, we'll be signing, I think, probably this summer, August or September. So from the -- in terms of our customers, it looks like that they can handle as long as there's no additional tariff increase. So we are seeing actually a small reduction in the impact to our total loan portfolio and the customer is impacted by the tariffs.

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Aaron James Deer, Piper Sandler & Co., Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst [12]

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Okay. And then about -- any thoughts on capital deployment, I guess, specifically on share repurchases and how you guys are thinking about that at this point?

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Heng W. Chen, Cathay General Bancorp - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [13]

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Yes. We bought -- I would say a fair amount, I think, over 1 million shares in 2019, most of it was in the first half. And we didn't buy back any shares in the fourth quarter, mainly due to the relative price of our stock. It's certainly something we will look at in 2020, particularly now that we know the impact from CECL and it's been relatively modest for us. And so we're -- it's a item in our Capital 2 kit, but it'll depend on basically on the stock price.

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Operator [14]

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Our next question comes from Lana Chan of BMO Capital Markets.

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Lana Chan, BMO Capital Markets Equity Research - MD & Senior Equity Analyst [15]

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I was wondering, given the strong loan growth at year-end, your loan-to-deposit ratio increased to 103%. What are the expectations for deposit growth in 2020 versus your 67% loan growth? And the reason why I'm asking is I'm just wondering how aggressive you can be with lowering deposit cost given the loan-to-deposit ratio?

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Heng W. Chen, Cathay General Bancorp - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [16]

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Yes. I think on the loan-to-deposit ratio, we had a couple of large outflows on the last 2 days of the year. But in the fourth quarter as a whole, we have pretty strong core deposit growth. In terms of 2020, the biggest challenge for us is getting more core deposits. So as far as our Chinese New Year promotion, that's a 6-week sort of promotional period where we don't have a set rate as we did in the past. But the results from the first couple of days have been pretty good in that we're lowering the rate from 2.20%. Actually, the rate in that promotion was higher than, I think, it was 2.35%. And our current target rate is 1.65% to 1.70%, but we actually had a net increase in CDs for the first 2 days of this retail cycle.

And then lastly, we think we'll have good momentum in getting money market. We'll continue to have momentum in getting money market deposits as -- which are lower rate than CDs on average because of the stabilization of the rate picture. And then we have -- we hired a new cash manager last summer, and we believe that we'll be able to execute better on getting business deposits. So I think we -- it's a start of the New Year, we feel pretty good right now. And based on the results for the first 3 weeks, the core deposit growth is decent.

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Lana Chan, BMO Capital Markets Equity Research - MD & Senior Equity Analyst [17]

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Okay. Heng, and then could you, I guess, talk about expectations for core expense growth this year?

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Heng W. Chen, Cathay General Bancorp - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [18]

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Yes, we finished with our budget. Our 2020 budget was approved last week or a few to maybe 1.5 weeks ago. And we think the increase on -- excluding solar amortization, which is going to be higher because we're investing a little bit more in 2020, we think that, overall, the expenses -- core expenses would be flat to maybe up by 1%.

In terms of places, we got pretty good savings from telecommunications, overall -- that's in 2020. We like most other banks, we are pretty tough on how we expect 2020 incentive bonus is to be. So we're budgeting for a lower amount. And we also cut back on discretionary items, such as marketing and things like that. So we're going to try real hard to maintain neutral operating leverage.

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Lana Chan, BMO Capital Markets Equity Research - MD & Senior Equity Analyst [19]

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Got it. And just one last question, if I could. If I look at your average securities, you talked about the elevated excess liquidity in the quarter. Your average securities were $1.56 billion, which was much higher than the end-of-period balance. Should that $1.56 billion come back down in the first quarter?

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Heng W. Chen, Cathay General Bancorp - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [20]

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Yes, yes. I think probably -- maybe closer to $1.45 billion or something like that. We -- because of our excess security -- liquidity, we had $100 million -- roughly $100 million in a 3-month treasuries, which rather than keep it all at the Fed.

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Operator [21]

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Our next question comes from Gary Tenner of D.A. Davidson.

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Gary Peter Tenner, D.A. Davidson & Co., Research Division - Senior VP & Senior Research Analyst [22]

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My question was largely answered, but just wanted to follow-up on the CD repricing, you talked about for the first quarter. I would think that the second quarter of the year might also have a decent delta in terms of the maturing rate versus the renewal rate. So I'm wondering if you could detail any further into the year on CD repricing.

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Heng W. Chen, Cathay General Bancorp - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [23]

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Yes. It's quite a bit less. The average rate is 1.93%, so -- and there's only $1.2 million of CDs repricing. So that's going to contribute very little. The third quarter, the rate is 1.85%, and there is only $1.5 billion of CDs maturing. And in the fourth quarter, that -- that's what we renewed. In the fourth quarter of this year, the average rate is already down to 1.72%, and there's only $1.2 billion. So most of it is going to be in the first quarter. And hopefully, while we have the first quarter conference call, I'll be able to give a favorable report on our NIM.

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Operator [24]

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(Operator Instructions) Our next question comes from David Chiaverini of Wedbush Securities.

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David John Chiaverini, Wedbush Securities Inc., Research Division - Senior Analyst [25]

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A couple of questions for you. So first on the money market deposit rate, it looks like it actually went up from the September quarter to the December quarter from 1.11% to 1.19%. I was curious as to why that increased?

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Heng W. Chen, Cathay General Bancorp - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [26]

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We put a bigger emphasis on attracting those and so for larger depositors that have multiple millions, we would pay a higher rate. And then second, in the middle of the fourth quarter, we did start accepting wholesale money markets, and those are basically in a 1.8% range. And in 2020, we'll also be using those as alternative to broker CDs.

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David John Chiaverini, Wedbush Securities Inc., Research Division - Senior Analyst [27]

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Got it. And you've incorporated I'm assuming that into your guidance, the expected growth in your money market at the higher rate into the next...

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Heng W. Chen, Cathay General Bancorp - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [28]

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And then we -- in December, we repriced our exceptional money market -- relationship money market deposits downward by, I think, on average 20 basis points. So -- and then we'll look at that at least once a quarter to make sure we're not paying above the market for very large relationship money market balances.

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David John Chiaverini, Wedbush Securities Inc., Research Division - Senior Analyst [29]

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Great. That makes sense. And then shifting over to credit quality. I saw that accruing loans past due 90 days increased about $6 million. What was the driver behind that?

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Heng W. Chen, Cathay General Bancorp - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [30]

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It was 1 loan, which we -- it's cash secured we had, and we expect that to be paid off in a couple of weeks. There were some difficulties in, I guess, contacting the borrower, who I understand was -- might have been out of the country. But -- so there's no credit issue with that particular loan.

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David John Chiaverini, Wedbush Securities Inc., Research Division - Senior Analyst [31]

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Great. And then the last one for me. So the easing, you mentioned about how the easing of -- about the easing of the tariffs and how it led to net recoveries of $2.5 million in the fourth quarter. Is there...

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Heng W. Chen, Cathay General Bancorp - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [32]

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No. Those are unrelated -- excuse me, we were talking about the provisioning as some of the negative loan loss provision was related to the easy, but, sorry, go ahead.

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David John Chiaverini, Wedbush Securities Inc., Research Division - Senior Analyst [33]

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And well, I guess, to just finish that thought, would you expect as this easing and Phase 1 is done and to the extent that we get additional progress, is there -- are there any loans that you could possibly see additional recoveries on related to the trade war easy?

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Heng W. Chen, Cathay General Bancorp - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [34]

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We have a general reserve for the trade war. So to the extent there's -- and it's not a huge number. But to the extent there's further progress in 2020, we could reduce that general reserve, and that reserve would carry over under CECL.

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Operator [35]

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Thank you for your participation. I would now turn the call back over to Cathay General Bancorp's management for closing remarks.

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Pin Tai, Cathay General Bancorp - CEO & Director [36]

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Thank you for joining us for this call, and we look forward to speaking with you in our next quarterly earnings release date.

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Operator [37]

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Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your participation in today's conference. This concludes the presentation. You may now disconnect.