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Edited Transcript of CHFC earnings conference call or presentation 24-Apr-19 2:30pm GMT

Q1 2019 Chemical Financial Corp Earnings Call

Midland Apr 25, 2019 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Chemical Financial Corp earnings conference call or presentation Wednesday, April 24, 2019 at 2:30:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* David T. Provost

Chemical Financial Corporation - President, CEO & Director

* Dennis L. Klaeser

Chemical Financial Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer

* Thomas C. Shafer

Chemical Financial Corporation - Vice Chairman of the Board

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Conference Call Participants

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* Kevin Kennedy Reevey

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

* Robert Scott Siefers

Sandler O'Neill + Partners, L.P., Research Division - Principal of Equity Research

* Terence James McEvoy

Stephens Inc., Research Division - MD and Research Analyst

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Presentation

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Unidentified Company Representative, [1]

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Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for standing by. Welcome to the Chemical Financial Corporation first quarter earnings conference call. (Operator Instructions)

As a reminder, today's conference is being recorded. A copy of today's earnings release can be accessed by logging onto chemicalbank.com and selecting the Investor Information tab at the top of the website. Also included is a slide presentation on our Investor Information page with supplemental information that will be referenced in today's call.

With us today are David Provost, CEO and President of Chemical Financial Corporation; Thomas Shafer, Vice Chairman of Chemical Financial Corporation and CEO and President of Chemical Bank; and Dennis Klaeser, our Chief Financial Officer. After brief comments from management, the call will be open to your questions.

Before we begin, we would like to caution listeners that this conference call may contain forward-looking statements about Chemical, its business, strategies and prospects. Please refer to the forward-looking statement disclaimer and other information on Pages 2 through 6 of the slide presentation for a description of risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those reflected in forward-looking statements.

And now I'd like to turn the call over to David Provost.

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David T. Provost, Chemical Financial Corporation - President, CEO & Director [2]

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Thanks, [Tara], and good morning, everyone. Looking at the first quarter financial highlights, our earnings were $62.9 million, representing earnings per diluted share of $0.87. Excluding items we deemed to be significant, including the impact of a change in our fair value of loan servicing rights and merger expenses, our earnings were $73.3 million or $1.02 per diluted share for the first quarter. This compares to $75.3 million or $1.04 for the prior quarter and $68.6 million or $0.95 a year ago. The earnings for the quarter are reflective of growth in our earning assets and strong credit metrics, coupled with the active management of our expenses providing for a low efficiency ratio. We are proud of our ability to increase our deposit base in a highly competitive market by $469 million or 12% annualized in the first quarter alone.

It is important to note that this level of growth includes only a small portion of the deposits that we are expecting from our selection as the city of Detroit's primary banking partner. We are seeing the deposit growth from the city of Detroit partnerships continuing into the second quarter. While our loan growth for the quarter was seasonally slower totaling $53 million, we believe we have a solid loan pipeline built that is anticipated to close during the second quarter. Our growth focus continues to be with new relationships in our commercial and industrial portfolio.

As you can see on Slides 22 and 23 of our deck, we have made significant progress with our previously announced merger of equals with TCF Financial, a transaction that we expect will create significant strategic and financial value for our shareholders. We have announced our senior executive leadership for the combined company, filed our preliminary registration statement with the SEC and merger applications with our respective bank regulators and established a joint integration management office that has planning well underway across our business verticals and shared services work streams. We expect to hold our respective special shareholder meetings to approve the merger in June, with more details to come.

Our integration efforts involve key leaders from both organizations supported by a strong third-party consulting firm. They are meeting every week alternating between Minnesota and Michigan. I'm very impressed with the respect and camaraderie being displayed by team members at Chemical and TCF during this process. We are very pleased with our progress to date, and we believe it bodes well for the future of this merger of equals. While a significant amount of focus is being placed on moving forward with our merger with TCF, I'm also pleased with our core bankings team's focus on continuing customer service. This level of customer focus, the finalization of our core operating systems upgrade, investments we made in our team over the past year, joined with the strength that we have previously built provide us with a continued optimistic outlook and belief that we are well positioned for growth in our high-growth potential markets of Detroit, Cleveland and Grand Rapids as we focus on services and products that provide the greatest opportunity to create value.

Note that while we continue to make strategic market investments and make plans in regards to our pending merger, we will continue to balance our disciplined expense management philosophy with a strong focus on driving revenue growth as we continue to make progress toward our goal of being the Midwest premier bank providing best-in-class service to all of our customers.

With that, let me turn it over to Tom to go through some of the specifics on our overall strategic plan. Tom?

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Thomas C. Shafer, Chemical Financial Corporation - Vice Chairman of the Board [3]

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Thanks, David. Following the successful completion of upgrading our core operating systems, we are focused on enhancing our revenue growth streams and continuing to improve our customer service and satisfaction. To do this, our focus is on the extension of the foundation of our business, maintaining our strong market share and brand recognition in our historical markets, while driving growth in our high-potential markets of Detroit, Cleveland and Grand Rapids. Over the last year, we have discussed the growth of our commercial capacity and talent in our growth markets and specialty finance. These are progressing as anticipated. We're also focused on improving the execution in small business and wealth management. To support this growth, I'm pleased to share that we recently recruited Joe Chasteen to lead our business banking strategy as we continue to intensify our focus on this important segment. Joe comes to us from Bank of the West in Denver where he was head of SBA and Small Business Banking. We have also welcomed Jeff Votruba as our Financial Advisers Program Director. Jeff comes to us from Citizens Investment Services and has a track record of building high-performing teams across multiple regions, and we anticipate him being a catalyst to grow our wealth management business. These are 2 examples of talent attraction that not only support our revenue growth plan at Chemical Bank but will also benefit the new TCF.

In addition, as some of our new product offerings that we introduced following the completion of our upgraded core operating system begin to pick up momentum, in tandem with our successful recruitment of some of the market's top talent to our team over the past year [in our] potential growth markets, we anticipate continued growth over the remainder of the year. We made strong progress over the past quarter in respect to deposit growth, specifically in our core customer deposits, and have a strong positive outlook for this trend to continue throughout the remainder of 2019 as we leverage new customer attraction with additional product offerings and the focused execution of our operating models.

While our overall loan growth was slower than anticipated in the quarter, we saw growth in our C&I and owner-occupied CRE loan portfolios where we continue to place our focus. The overall loan growth was impacted by a fairly high level of payoffs and paydowns in these portfolios. As always, our focus is on continuing to improve the risk characteristics of our credit portfolios, and this is evidenced by a lower charge-off rate and solid credit metrics. As we look forward to the second quarter and beyond, we anticipate loan originations to pick up, and we continue to expect to achieve high single-digit loan growth for the full year 2019, with the most substantial growth continuing to be in our C&I and owner-occupied CRE portfolios.

As Dave touched on, our planning for the merger with TCF is fully underway. We have key leaders from both organizations looking at work streams to bring the best of both organizations forward, enhancing our capacity to grow our combined core bank in the national lending platform of TCF. As you know, the Chemical team has a significant skill set in executing mergers and achieving targeted synergies. I'm more confident today after initiating the integration process and the more granular analysis of each other's operation, that we will not only achieve our stated cost synergies, but the potential for enhanced growth opportunities across the entire new franchise is significant.

With that, let me turn it over to Dennis to go through the financial results in further detail. Dennis?

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Dennis L. Klaeser, Chemical Financial Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [4]

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Thank you, Tom, and good morning, everyone. Moving on to Slide 9. Net income was $62.9 million in the first quarter of 2019 or $0.87 per diluted share. Our first quarter results were impacted by a couple of significant items. First, due to the drop of interest rates during the first quarter, we had a $7.6 million detriment to the fair value of our loan servicing rights or an equivalent of $0.09 per share. We also incurred $5.4 million of merger-related expenses in the first quarter of 2019 or the equivalent of $0.06 earnings per share. After adjusting for these significant items, our net income was $73.3 million or $1.02 per diluted share compared to $75.3 million or $1.04 per share in the fourth quarter and $68.6 million or $0.95 in the prior year first quarter. The impact of change in the fair value of our loan servicing rights is very volatile and is driven by the fluctuating interest rates in the residential mortgage market at quarter end.

Given that mortgage rates have moved back up here in April, we estimate that the loan servicing rights value has revalued by over $3.5 million so far in the second quarter. Our net income compared to the prior quarter benefited from continued increases in average balances and yields earned on loans and investment securities, which was more than offset by our growth in deposits and cost of funds.

As shown on Slides 10 and 11, our key profitability metrics remain strong. Excluding significant items, return on average assets was 1.36% and return on tangible shareholders' equity was 17.2% for the first quarter of 2019. As shown on Slide 12, year-over-year, the total loan portfolio has grown by $1.1 billion or 7.8% to $15.3 billion as of March 31, 2019. This growth was driven by C&I loans, which grew by over 18% year-over-year, demonstrating our strategic focus on growing our C&I lending business.

Turning to Slide 13. We had slow loan growth, as is typical in the first quarter of the year, of about $54 million. The growth in the first quarter was primarily in our residential mortgage loan portfolio, which grew by $91 million, and our C&I portfolio, which grew by $52 million. As Tom stated previously, we believe we have a solid loan pipeline, and we continue to target annualized loan growth in the high single digits for the full year 2019. From Slide 14, you can see that our $54 million of loan growth for the quarter is a result of $298 million of growth in our originated portfolio, offset by $244 million of runoff in our acquired loan portfolios.

Moving on to deposits. As seen on Slide 15, we had strong overall deposit growth year-over-year of $2.1 billion or 15% with $1.7 billion of that growth in customer deposits. The first quarter of 2019 included solid deposit growth of $469 million as we have actively pursued new customer deposits, which continue to reduce our reliance on broker deposits and FHLB borrowings. As Dave previously mentioned, we only had a small amount of deposits coming from the city of Detroit during the first quarter, but we are seeing a more substantial amount of deposits begin to come in here in the month of April. Our average cost of deposits increased to 99 basis points in the first quarter and is reflective of increases in Fed funds and competition compared to 88 basis points in the fourth quarter and 46 basis points in the first quarter of 2018. Looking at overall funding on Slide 16. Our average cost of funds increased to 113 basis points during the first quarter compared to 103 basis points in the prior quarter and 64 basis points 1 year earlier primarily driven by the rising interest rate environment and increased competition for deposits.

Turning to Slide 17. Our credit metrics remain strong. The decrease in provision for loan losses for originated loans to $2.5 million in the first quarter of 2019 compared to $9.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2018 is reflective of a decrease in originated loan growth and low loan charge-offs. The provision for loan losses of $2.1 million also included $420,000 of impairment relief identified on our acquired loan portfolios during the first quarter of 2019 as a result of recoveries in our acquired loan portfolio. Net loan charge-offs were just 5 basis points of average loans in the first quarter of 2019, which was a decline from an already low 8 basis points in the prior quarter and 10 basis points in the first quarter of 2018. Our ratio of nonperforming loans to total loans was 58 basis points as of March 31, 2019, compared to 56 basis points at year-end.

As shown on Slide 18, net interest income declined $0.6 million to $162.8 million in the first quarter compared to the prior quarter with the decrease primarily due to the benefit from the increase in average balances and yields on loans and investment securities offset by the increases in average deposit balances and cost of funds. The net interest margin on a tax-equivalent basis was 3.42% in the first quarter compared to 3.49% in the fourth quarter with the decrease due to the same reasons as the change in net interest income. It is important to note that we continue to see improvements in our loan yields benefiting from market interest rate shifts in addition to our focus on commercial loan -- our commercial loan portfolio. The decrease in the net interest margin was also impacted by a reduction in the benefit from accretion on purchased loans to 22 basis points in the first quarter compared to 23 basis points in the prior quarter.

Moving on to Slide 19. Our noninterest income for the first quarter was $24.9 million compared to $32 million in the fourth quarter. The decrease in noninterest income was largely due to the fair value of our loan servicing rights, which was a detriment of $7.6 million in the first quarter compared to a detriment of $2.8 million in the prior quarter. Additionally, fee income related to our commercial lending business was very low given the low commercial loan origination volume.

As seen on Slide 20, core operating expenses, excluding costs deemed to be significant, including our merger expenses incurred in the first quarter and impairment associated with tax credits realized during the prior quarter, were $103.6 million in the first quarter compared to $102.6 million in the fourth quarter. Quarter-over-quarter, the increase was primarily due to the normal seasonal increases of payroll taxes due to the beginning of the new tax year. We continue to focus on expense control and maintain -- and focus on maintaining a low efficiency ratio. Our adjusted efficiency ratio was 51.7% in the first quarter of 2019 compared to 54 -- 50.4% in the fourth quarter of 2018 and 51.6% a year ago. Consistent with our previous guidance, our goal is to push our efficiency ratio down to the low 50% range or lower by the end of 2019.

Turning to Slide 21. We ended the quarter with tangible book value of $24.39, which represents a 13% growth in our tangible book value per share compared to 1 year ago. Our TCE to total asset ratio remains strong at 8.5% at March 31, 2019, and our regulatory capital ratios are strong at an estimated 10.9% for our -- and our Tier 1 capital ratio of 11.7% -- our total risk-based capital at 11.7%.

I will now turn it back to Dave for his closing remarks.

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David T. Provost, Chemical Financial Corporation - President, CEO & Director [5]

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Thanks, Dennis. As always, we believe the key factors that will drive our future earnings are our ability to drive revenue growth and the continuation of our disciplined expense management. We remain focused on these factors as we strive to appropriately balance risk and return and continue our efforts to close on our pending merger with TCF. As always, we appreciate your time and interest in Chemical Financial.

On that note, moderator, let's open it up to questions.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions) We will take our first question from [Chris.]

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Unidentified Analyst, [2]

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Dennis, maybe to start with you, the securities growth in the quarter was certainly a function of the deposit growth. And it sounds like you are optimistic about the Detroit deposits gathering some momentum in Q2. Can you help us with the kind of the pace of securities growth from now until deal close and also maybe tied into expectations on the core margin?

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Dennis L. Klaeser, Chemical Financial Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [3]

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Yes. Our expectation for the securities portfolio is it's going to grow a little faster than the overall loan portfolio is going to grow. So in other words, probably 9%, 10% growth over the course of the full year. And depending on sort of the fluctuations in the interest rate environment quarter-to-quarter, the pace may moderate or increase depending on how we see -- what we see the opportunities there. In terms of the margin, we saw, as expected, some pressure on the margin this quarter. And as I previously guided, we do expect incremental pressure over the course of the year. That pressure is probably little higher here earlier in the year and then it should abate as we get to the latter part of the year.

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Unidentified Analyst, [4]

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Okay. Okay. With respect to fee income, we talked about some seasonal business swaps. Expectations for that to kind of rebound in the coming quarter, any guidance there would be great.

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Dennis L. Klaeser, Chemical Financial Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [5]

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Yes. We should -- there's a fair amount of seasonality impact to it plus the -- you are correct, the swap fee income related to our commercial lending business was down substantially in the quarter, and so we would expect that to trend back up with a strong second quarter. Additionally, if you look historically, you will always see seasonally strong wealth management income, a fairly meaningful pickup in the quarter. And then also, we got some good momentum in our mortgage banking business, and we would expect some seasonal uptick there as well. The noise caused by loan servicing rights, at least now, would be a positive impact to earnings rather than a negative impact to earnings.

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Unidentified Analyst, [6]

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Great. And then maybe last one, until the deal closes, how should we be thinking about tax rate going forward?

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Dennis L. Klaeser, Chemical Financial Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [7]

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We were just under 17% this quarter, and I would expect it to be right around -- sorry, just under 18% this quarter. I would expect to be right around that level, plus or minus 25, 30 basis points. Later in the year, we may have a historic tax credit that's going to create a meaningful drop in the tax rate. But as we progress through the year, I'll give more guidance on that.

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Operator [8]

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We will take our next question.

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Unidentified Analyst, [9]

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The operating expenses in the quarter looks like they are very well managed. Can you maybe talk about the puts and takes there as we go into the second quarter? Is the core level here at $103 million, is that the right level to think as the run rate?

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Dennis L. Klaeser, Chemical Financial Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [10]

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There will be a little bit of upward pressure on that, Dave. First of all, in the quarter, there is about $2 million of the seasonal FICA taxes and reload of 401(k)s. So there is a bit of seasonality there that pushes the expenses up. We do have salary increases spread across our staff, and those go into effect beginning April 1. And so to some extent, that's going to offset a portion of the seasonality of the FICA taxes. In the second quarter, we would expect a bit of pick-up in our marketing expenses, and so you will have other normal sort of noise of expenses quarter-to-quarter, but -- so I expect a modest upward pressure, very modest-to-slight upward pressure on overall operating expenses.

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Unidentified Analyst, [11]

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Okay. And then the second question, maybe for Tom. You talked about the hire in the Denver marketplace. Is that just an individual at this point or the market leader? Or do you have teams in place? And are you live and active in the market yet?

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Thomas C. Shafer, Chemical Financial Corporation - Vice Chairman of the Board [12]

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Yes. So let me be clear on that. So we recruited Joe to run business banking. He came from Bank of the West. He has relocated to Detroit, and he's operating here. He has run business banking across many states in his previous assignments, and we look for him to help us grow that segment and be a little more disciplined in that. And that's across all of our marketplaces, and it would be all across all of the TCF -- the new TCF marketplaces. So we're not in Denver independently. We are focused on our franchise as we go through the application process for the merger.

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Operator [13]

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(Operator Instructions) We will take our next question.

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Robert Scott Siefers, Sandler O'Neill + Partners, L.P., Research Division - Principal of Equity Research [14]

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This is Scott Siefers. I guess actually most of mine have been answered, but I guess, Dennis, as you look at that core margin -- or excuse me, the margin pressure that you alluded to earlier, that's core margin pressure as opposed to just reported pressure that would come from PAAs declining over the course of the year. Is that correct?

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Dennis L. Klaeser, Chemical Financial Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [15]

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Correct. There is a modest amount of purchase accounting bleed-off as well, but it's pretty modest. So I think the accretable yield or the excess accretable yield contributed about $10.5 million in the first quarter. And in the second quarter, we're estimating that to be right at $10 million or plus or minus couple of hundred thousand. So we expect very modest pressure as that bleeds down, as that portfolio overall bleeds down.

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Robert Scott Siefers, Sandler O'Neill + Partners, L.P., Research Division - Principal of Equity Research [16]

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Perfect. Okay. And then just as you think about that securities growth over the remainder of the year, which I think you indicated would be a little more rapid than loan growth, what's sort of your thinking on what would cause that to ebb and flow? In other words, I guess we've had that strategy going for several quarters now. Is there any greater sense of urgency to do it now? Or could you sort of feel free to back off if you felt that the environment just wasn't compelling enough?

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Dennis L. Klaeser, Chemical Financial Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [17]

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Yes. We would back off if the environment is not compelling, and it's -- as before, adding leverage into the securities portfolio, the intention is to be interest rate risk-neutral, therefore, in effect, match funding the portfolio with FHLB borrowings. And so we are looking at the funding costs that are available to us from FHLB borrowings. And so we are looking to build in a particular targeted spread of around 1.1%. So if the market doesn't give us that, then we back off. If the market gives us that, then we execute that strategy of growth.

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Operator [18]

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We will now move on to our next question.

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Kevin Kennedy Reevey, D.A. Davidson & Co., Research Division - Senior VP & Senior Research Analyst [19]

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So our first question is, Dennis, you mentioned that you expect more muni deposits from Detroit to come in during the second quarter. Can you remind us how much the total of the deposit RFP is from Detroit? And how much you expect to come in, in the second quarter? And then if you can give us any update on the other RFPs that are outstanding?

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Dennis L. Klaeser, Chemical Financial Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [20]

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Yes. So when we were awaiting the RFP, they had an approximate $500 million that were in basically transaction -- various types of transaction accounts. Part of our role, to be their adviser and service provider, is help them more efficiently manage their cash. So the end result is that the average balances that we have is going to be something less than that, but it's still going to be probably in that $300 million to $400 million range of average balances when all those balances come in. But we are proactively helping the city manage its cash position, rolling idle cash into interest-bearing accounts. And so we're providing a great service to them. It's taking just a little bit longer than expected for that to roll in just because it's a fairly big administrative task to set up these accounts, and they have the various teams from the city coordinated with our teams to get everything properly set up and transferred over and get the new procedures all set up.

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Kevin Kennedy Reevey, D.A. Davidson & Co., Research Division - Senior VP & Senior Research Analyst [21]

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And Dennis, do you have any other RFPs that are outstanding. I thought there was something with state, if I recall correctly, and then Oakland and...

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Dennis L. Klaeser, Chemical Financial Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [22]

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Yes, so just -- sorry. I would say that there is -- we are actively engaging a number of municipal entities and public fund entities as we normally do. So it's not new to us. I would say that the transaction and the opportunity with the city of Detroit would happen to be the largest that we had dealt with, but we are dealing with other meaningful size RFPs and relationship strategies in -- both at city levels, county levels and at the state level.

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Kevin Kennedy Reevey, D.A. Davidson & Co., Research Division - Senior VP & Senior Research Analyst [23]

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And then lastly, did you bring on board any more commercial lenders? I know you've brought on board a Head of Business Banking, but any additional lenders either in Grand Rapids, Detroit or Cleveland?

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Thomas C. Shafer, Chemical Financial Corporation - Vice Chairman of the Board [24]

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Not in the last quarter.

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Operator [25]

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We'll take our next question.

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Terence James McEvoy, Stephens Inc., Research Division - MD and Research Analyst [26]

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It's Terry. Dennis, since you're listed as the CFO on Slide 23 here, I want to ask you a question on just 2020 and has anything changed over the last 3 months based on first quarter earnings that make you feel more comfortable, comfortable or less comfortable with the outlook that was discussed, call it, 3 months ago?

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Dennis L. Klaeser, Chemical Financial Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [27]

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I feel just as comfortable. I think we feel very bullish about the business synergy opportunities that weren't in our deck when we announced the merger. And -- so we feel there is upside in the earnings over time as we exploit those opportunities to generate those business synergies, those exporting of TCF specialties and expertise into our system and vice versa. The key hire that Tom talked about, I think, is one key example of being able to gear up our small business banking business, which we're already fairly effective in our market, but bringing a very strong leader who is going to help us roll that business out over the broader geographic footprint after the merger is completed. Also, as -- a big part of the exercise that we went through up to the announcement was analyzing cost saves objectives. We've taken that to a much greater level of detail and scrutiny over the last couple of months with our teams working very closely with one another, getting through our expense basis on a very granular basis. And so in terms of the cost saves objectives, we're fully committed to delivering that $180 million plus of cost saves that we talked about.

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Terence James McEvoy, Stephens Inc., Research Division - MD and Research Analyst [28]

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And then, Dennis, just my follow-up. I'll stay with you. Any changes in your kind of interpretation of how CECL will impact purchase accounting accretion in 2020? And just maybe as a reminder, how are you thinking about accretion under CECL?

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Dennis L. Klaeser, Chemical Financial Corporation - Executive VP, CFO & Treasurer [29]

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Yes. So we've talked through this. A little bit of a gray area in CECL as to how they deal with purchased portfolios. And assuming the deal closes here, let's say, end of the third quarter, early fourth quarter, we'll have a credit mark on that day. And we estimate that credit mark to be in the neighborhood of $180 million. With the implementation of CECL, basically that credit mark becomes -- all of it becomes accretable into the earnings stream over the life of the loan portfolio. And that $180 million, assuming there is no change in the credit profile, is a new allowance for loan loss that's created on day 1 with CECL, and that's an adjustment through the equity account. And I believe I talked to really all the analysts and investors fairly carefully about that, and nothing has changed. And we have not gotten any changing guidance from the FASB that the process would be any different from what I just reviewed.

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Operator [30]

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Thank you. And with no further questions in the queue, I'd like to turn the conference back over to Mr. Provost for any additional or closing remarks.

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David T. Provost, Chemical Financial Corporation - President, CEO & Director [31]

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Okay. Thanks. We appreciate your interest in Chemical Financial. We continue to remain confident in the future. We believe we're well positioned to achieve additional market share gains as we move forward. So with that, thank you, and have a great day. Thanks.

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Operator [32]

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This does conclude today's conference. Thank you all for your participation. You may now disconnect.