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Edited Transcript of FRC earnings conference call or presentation 14-Jan-20 3:00pm GMT

Q4 2019 First Republic Bank Earnings Call

SAN FRANCISCO Jan 15, 2020 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of First Republic Bank earnings conference call or presentation Tuesday, January 14, 2020 at 3:00:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Hafize Gaye Erkan

First Republic Bank - President & Director

* James H. Herbert

First Republic Bank - Founder, Chairman and CEO

* Michael J. Roffler

First Republic Bank - Executive Vice President & CFO

* Shannon Houston

First Republic Bank - Senior Vice President, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer

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Conference Call Participants

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* Aaron James Deer

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

* Arren Saul Cyganovich

Citigroup Inc, Research Division - VP & Senior Analyst

* Brian D. Foran

Autonomous Research LLP - Partner & US Regional Banks

* Brocker Clinton Vandervliet

UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Executive Director & Senior Banks Analyst of Mid Cap

* Casey Haire

Jefferies LLC, Research Division - VP & Equity Analyst

* David John Chiaverini

Wedbush Securities Inc., Research Division - Senior Analyst

* Garrett Anthony Holland

Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated, Research Division - Analyst

* Jared David Wesley Shaw

Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Analyst

* Jon Glenn Arfstrom

RBC Capital Markets, Research Division - MD of Financial Services Equity Research

* Kenneth Allen Zerbe

Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Executive Director

* Lana Chan

BMO Capital Markets Equity Research - MD & Senior Equity Analyst

* Rahul Suresh Patil

Evercore ISI Institutional Equities, Research Division - Analyst

* Steven A. Alexopoulos

JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - MD and Head of Mid-Cap & Small-Cap Banks

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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Greetings, and welcome to First Republic Bank's Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2019 Earnings Conference Call. (Operator Instructions) I would now like to turn today's call over to Shannon Houston, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer. Please go ahead.

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Shannon Houston, First Republic Bank - Senior Vice President, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer [2]

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Thank you, and welcome to First Republic Bank's Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2019 Conference Call. Speaking today will be Jim Herbert, the bank's Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer; Gaye Erkan, President; and Mike Roffler, Chief Financial Officer.

Before I hand the call over to Jim, please note that we may make forward-looking statements during today's call that are subject to risks, uncertainties and assumptions. For a more complete discussion of the risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from any forward-looking statements, see the bank's FDIC filings, including the Form 8-K filed today, all available on the bank's website.

And now, I'd like to turn the call over to Jim Herbert.

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James H. Herbert, First Republic Bank - Founder, Chairman and CEO [3]

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Thank you, Shannon. 2019 was a very strong year across the board. Our results continue to demonstrate the growth power of our client-centric business model. First Republic's ability to deliver extraordinary client satisfaction for almost 35 years is reflected in our high Net Promoter Score, which is more than twice that of the banking industry.

This, in turn, translates into stable clients, additional business from these satisfied clients, and a strong flow of referrals also from the satisfied client base. The result is a very successful compounding effect that continues to drive our growth, organically and safely. This model has worked well irrespective of economic and market conditions for several years.

Let me cover a few key metrics for the year. Total loans outstanding were up 19.7%, total deposits have grown 14%, and wealth management assets have increased by 19.7%. This growth, in turn, has led to strong financial performance.

Year-over-year, total revenue grew 9.7%. Our net interest income grew 10.5% and tangible book value per share increased 11% during the year. We're pleased to report that our credit quality continues to be quite strong.

During the fourth quarter, we had net recoveries of $1.1 million. For the entire year, net charge-offs were only $4.6 million, less than 1 basis point of average loans. Nonperforming assets ended the year at only 12 basis points. Capital remains very strong. At year-end, our Tier 1 leverage ratio was 8.39%.

Conditions in our markets continue to be quite healthy overall. Our clients remain very active, and our loan pipeline is strong. We would note that the loan originations have some seasonality with the fourth quarter typically being a bit stronger, and the first quarter somewhat slower. This lower rate environment, which we're operating in, continues to represent a terrific opportunity to attract high quality new households, particularly through our home loan refinance activities.

We continue to also be very successful in attracting younger generation of clients through our student loan refinance and our professional loan programs.

During the year, we added net nearly 8,000 new high quality younger households through these 2 programs. These households represent fully 35% of our total consumer-borrowing base at this point, up from only 19% three years ago.

2019 was the ninth full year since we bought back First Republic from the Bank of America and undertook our second IPO. Over these past 9 years, we have grown loans from $18.6 billion to $91 billion. Tangible book value per share over this period has grown from $15.19 to $50.24 while we have also paid cumulative cash dividends of $4.55. That's a compound growth of tangible book value per share and dividend payout of over 15% per annum. These results demonstrate very clearly the power of our client-centric, sustainable, organic growth model.

Overall, it is a terrific quarter and a terrific year.

Now let me turn the call over to Gaye Erkan, President.

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Hafize Gaye Erkan, First Republic Bank - President & Director [4]

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Thank you, Jim. It was indeed an excellent quarter and terrific year. Loan originations for the fourth quarter were $11.2 billion, our best quarter ever.

For the full year 2019, loan originations were $38 billion, another record year. Single-family residential volume was also a record, both for the quarter and year at $5.3 billion and $16.4 billion, respectively. Importantly, our loan-to-value ratio for single-family originations in 2019 was a conservative 58%. Refinance accounted for just over 60% of single-family residential volumes during 2019. As we have noted before, refinancing continues to be a means of getting trial with new clients.

Multifamily and commercial real estate lending also performed well. 2019 originations were up 13% from last year. Most importantly, credit quality remains strong.

When we look at our fourth quarter originations for multifamily and other commercial real estate, our medium loan size was $1.5 million with a conservative loan-to-value ratio of 48% and strong debt service coverage ratios. As always, we have not and will not compromise our credit standards.

Business banking also had a terrific year. Total business loans and lines outstanding were $11.6 billion at year-end, representing 13% of total loans outstanding. A key focus for us is the growth of business loans and line commitments, which were up 14% year-over-year. This reflects our ongoing ability to create new relationships and deepen existing ones. Our success in business banking results primarily from following our satisfied private banking clients to their businesses and nonprofits, which provides an important diversified source of funding. Business deposits were up 15% for the year and represented 56% of total deposits at year-end. For every dollar of business loans outstanding, we have over $4 of business deposit funding.

Turning to the overall deposit base. Total deposits were up 14% from a year ago. Checking deposits remained strong and represented 59% of total deposits at quarter end. The average rate paid on deposits for the quarter was 59 basis points. Our diversified deposit gathering efforts performed well across all of our channels--preferred banking, business banking, private wealth management as well as our integrated Preferred Banking Office network.

In 2019, we opened 3 Preferred Banking Offices, 1 in Mountain View in Northern California, 1 in Manhattan Beach in Southern California and on Canal Street in New York City. In addition, yesterday, we opened a new Preferred Banking Office in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. In wealth management, assets under management grew 20% year-over-year and are now $151 billion. Private wealth management fee revenues represent over 14% of our overall revenues.

Our integrated banking and wealth management model continues to attract very successful wealth managers. During 2019, we are pleased to have welcomed 10 new wealth management teams across our markets. We also recently opened a Wyoming trust company. This further expands our services for clients and enables them to realize the benefits of Wyoming trusts.

Despite a challenging interest rate environment, these strong results once again demonstrate the power of our unique client service culture, which fuels organic, safe growth. Overall, it was a terrific year across the franchise.

Now I would like to turn the call over to Mike Roffler, Chief Financial Officer.

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Michael J. Roffler, First Republic Bank - Executive Vice President & CFO [5]

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Thank you, Gaye. Let me review the results for the year and quarter and then offer some guidance for 2020. Our capital position remains very strong. In October, we retired $190 million of the Series D 5.5% perpetual preferred stock. Then in December, we were pleased to successfully raise $395 million of perpetual preferred stock at the historically attractive rate of 4.7%. As a result of these capital actions, we now expect preferred stock dividends to be approximately $15 million, beginning in the second quarter of 2020.

Liquidity also remains strong with high quality liquid assets being 12.7% of average total assets in the fourth quarter. Our credit quality remains excellent. As Jim mentioned, we had net recoveries of $1.1 million during the fourth quarter. And for the entire year, net charge-offs were only $4.6 million, less than 1 basis point of average loans.

During 2019, we added $62 million to our loan loss reserves to support our strong loan growth. Our net interest margin was 2.73% for the fourth quarter and 2.83% for the full year 2019, in line with what we discussed on our last earnings call. Net interest income remains a key driver of the franchise and a reflection of our growth. Despite a challenging rate environment, which even included a short-term inversion of the yield curve for part of the year, net interest income increased 10.5% during 2019. The growth in net interest income is the result of our average earning assets being up a very strong 15%.

Net interest income growth, again, demonstrates the power of our client-service focused model to thrive in varying economic and interest rate environments. Our efficiency ratio was 63.7% for the fourth quarter and 64.2% for the full year 2019. We are particularly pleased with this given the continued high level of client service and our ongoing investment in the franchise, including infrastructure.

Now let me provide some guidance for the full year 2020. Loan growth is expected to be in the mid-teens. Our net interest margin is expected to be in the range of 2.65% to 2.75%, which assumes an unchanged Fed funds rate throughout 2020. Assuming the present shape of the yield curve and competitive dynamics, we currently expect to operate in the middle to lower half of that range. The efficiency ratio is expected to be in the range of 63.5% to 64.5%. As a reminder, our first quarter efficiency ratio is typically higher due to the seasonal impact of payroll taxes and benefits.

With respect to income taxes, the full year tax rate is expected to be 20% to 21%. The tax rate in the first half of 2020 is expected to be a little lower due to the anticipated exercise of stock options that predominantly expire on July 1, 2020.

Overall, it was a very strong year that speaks to the sustainable power of our business model.

Now I'll turn the call back to Jim.

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James H. Herbert, First Republic Bank - Founder, Chairman and CEO [6]

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Thank you, Gaye and Mike. It was a terrific year by every measure. For almost 35 years, our simple, straightforward, very client-centric business model has been consistently profitable. Delivering exceptional client satisfaction, one client at a time, year in and year out is the driver of our growth.

We're very proud of the entire First Republic team and their ability to work in such unison to deliver this exceptional client service, once again.

We continue to maintain a culture of collaboration and remain intensely focused on supporting the success of our clients. Looking ahead, we expect to continue delivering the same safe, stable organic growth, coupled with our very conservative underwriting standards and strong capital at all times.

Now we'd be happy to take your questions.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions)

Our first question will be from Steven Alexopoulos with JP Morgan.

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Steven A. Alexopoulos, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - MD and Head of Mid-Cap & Small-Cap Banks [2]

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My first question is for Mike on NIM. I appreciate the full year guidance. But when you look at the quarter, loan yields were down 11 bps in the quarter. Deposit costs were down only 6 bps. Mike, can you help us think about NIM dynamics over the near term? And walk us through what the new money loan yields are, and what -- where you see deposit costs headed?

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Michael J. Roffler, First Republic Bank - Executive Vice President & CFO [3]

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Sure. So the fourth quarter NIM was 2.73%, which was pretty close to what we had expected from our last call. The loan yields, we did have a rate change in late September and also October. So the October rate change isn't quite fully reflected. And so you'll see a little bit of a down bias in the first quarter on loan yields, a few basis points. Whereas our funding costs, all-in, have been relatively stable, and it is reflective of making some changes with the Fed move. And so that's why we think a little bit lower from here as we sort of project into the first quarter. On loan yields, all-in, it was about 3.30% in the fourth quarter, which is slightly less than the third quarter, but it seems to have stabilized a bit and maybe even trending up slightly as we look at sort of locks in process.

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Steven A. Alexopoulos, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - MD and Head of Mid-Cap & Small-Cap Banks [4]

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Okay. That's helpful. And then on expenses, from a seasonal view, you started 2019 around 65% efficiency ratio. Do you think that's a rough, good starting point? And can you help us think about expense growth in dollars, like percentage growth of expenses in 2020, what are your expectations there?

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Michael J. Roffler, First Republic Bank - Executive Vice President & CFO [5]

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Sure. So I would say, on dollar growth, probably low double digits. And then you're right, the first quarter efficiency typically is above our top end of range at 64.5%. So I think it's been low 65% to mid-65% in the first quarter, and then it trends down after that.

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Steven A. Alexopoulos, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - MD and Head of Mid-Cap & Small-Cap Banks [6]

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Okay. And then just finally, another quarter, right, of record loan originations. If you look at the detail, loan growth actually accelerated each quarter through 2019. When you guys look at the drivers of growth, I get why you gave the mid-teens guidance or you want to be conservative. But is there any reason to think that well above that won't continue at least over the near term?

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James H. Herbert, First Republic Bank - Founder, Chairman and CEO [7]

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I think, Steve, that '19 benefited from kind of a dual situation in the single-family refi and purchase area. It was a doubly good year. Both of those cylinders fired. That's pretty unusual. I think you're now more into a refinance market. And the short supply of available homes for sale and the stabilizing of price increases in our markets probably augers for an okay year on purchase.

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Operator [8]

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Our next question will be from John Pancari with Evercore Partners.

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Rahul Suresh Patil, Evercore ISI Institutional Equities, Research Division - Analyst [9]

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This is Rahul Patil here for John. A question regarding the CECL impact. I realize you've talked about a 5% to 10% change in the reserve level. Is the bias to an upward revision of the reserve level, given your balance sheet mix? Or is there a possibility that the reserve level might actually decline 5% to 10% as you make changes to the qualitative component of your loan loss reserve? And then as a follow-up, can you just help us think through the day-2 impact of loan loss provision? Do you have a view on the current consensus estimates for 2020 loan loss provision from $90 million to $95 million?

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Michael J. Roffler, First Republic Bank - Executive Vice President & CFO [10]

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Thanks Rahul, I think on the CECL adjustment, we're finishing up the sort of audit review process, but the range looks to be an increase of less than 5% at this point based on sort of our runs to date, and so it's a little bit tighter than when we last spoke about it. And it is just a very slight increase, it looks like. And that includes all reserves because we are going to have to put up a reserve on held-to-maturity securities now. So we'll break those components out when we do our filings. In terms of ongoing run rate, our loan loss reserve to loans today is about 55 basis points based upon the mix of portfolio. And given the runs we've done, it feels like a range of 55 to 60 makes sense to us. And that will, obviously, depend on loan mix, even on a go-forward day-2 impact. And so I can't really comment on sort of consensus because that will factor in your view of growth and whatnot. But I think if that loan loss to allowance range is probably a good thing to look at when you're figuring that.

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Rahul Suresh Patil, Evercore ISI Institutional Equities, Research Division - Analyst [11]

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Okay. That's helpful. And then could you just give us some specifics of the upcoming core systems project that was announced yesterday with FIS, for example, the scope of the project, time to completion, the total cost? Or if there's any incremental hiring that's associated with this project?

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Hafize Gaye Erkan, First Republic Bank - President & Director [12]

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Sure. The core conversion is well underway. The planning process is well underway and on track in terms of budget and timeline, and we expect to complete the core conversion by the end of 2021. A simple business model, no major acquisitions relatively low number of accounts are all advantages. And it is the core conversion-related costs are in the efficiency guidance that we have provided, 63.5% to 64.5%.

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Operator [13]

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Our next question will be from Ken Zerbe with Morgan Stanley.

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Kenneth Allen Zerbe, Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Executive Director [14]

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I guess my first question, just were there any incentive fees or any kind of other unusual items in the investment advisory line this quarter? It looks like it ticked up as a percentage of assets, a little bit higher than what we would have expected.

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Michael J. Roffler, First Republic Bank - Executive Vice President & CFO [15]

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Yes. That's right, Ken. There is a performance fee for one of our legacy-related activities, it's just under $9 million that was in the fourth quarter investment advisory fee. Most of that is then recorded as an expense between compensation and other expense. So just a little bit of it drops to the bottom line.

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Kenneth Allen Zerbe, Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Executive Director [16]

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Okay. Got it. And then maybe a little more broader question. In terms of your deposit strategy, just kind of curious how that's changed over the last year or so? Because obviously, you had -- like on average, your interest bearing checking was up a lot this quarter. I mean -- or at least in the back half of the year, but CDs, which grew earlier in the year kind of looks like they were down a little bit this quarter. Just kind of curious what's the strategy behind that? Like are you trying to shift more towards very short duration stuff, are CDs still appealing to you?

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Hafize Gaye Erkan, First Republic Bank - President & Director [17]

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Sure. Yes. CDs are still appealing, and it continues to be a great tool in our funding tool kit because it also helps us attract great households, client households and relationships. Just year-over-year, as we have noted in the earlier calls, the barbell strategy between checking and CD has been performing quite well. And if actually, if you look at the year-over-year growth, checking has been extremely strong. Consumer has been extremely strong in addition to business. And CDs were up 28% year-over-year, roughly $3 billion. In the second half, especially in the fourth quarter, given the short-term rates have come down, there has been other alternative funding sources that have been attractive from that perspective. So thus, there has been a slower growth in CDs, but we will continue to use them as a great client acquisition tool going forward.

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James H. Herbert, First Republic Bank - Founder, Chairman and CEO [18]

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Ken, it's Jim. I might add one thought here, which Gaye referred to, which is we grew deposits about 14%. The average of most of the banks, the banks have reported already today is running around 5% for the year. So what we do is focus on a very wide range of methodologies and constituencies in the raising of the deposit funds. Wealth Management, obviously, plays a role as well and business banking is very important, so what Gaye is really referring to is our range of focusing. The total -- our total funding costs, in fact, are holding up quite well. We're basically at about 84 basis points, about -- that's about 30% lower than the three other banks that reported already today.

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Kenneth Allen Zerbe, Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Executive Director [19]

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Got it. Understood. And then just one last question, if I could. In terms of the provision expense, I know you had $1 million of net recoveries that probably contributed to the $10 million of provision. So obviously, that was down a fair bit, but it doesn't seem to account for all of it. Were there any other changes in terms of how you're thinking about credit or any other adjustments that would have led to sort of the unusually low provision expense this quarter?

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Michael J. Roffler, First Republic Bank - Executive Vice President & CFO [20]

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So I think I'd say, one, you added the $1 million recovery that, obviously, leads to less provision. And if you look at the components of growth in the quarter, 70% with single family. And so that's a much lower reserving rate than some of the other things like business, which was I think relatively modest growth in the quarter. So it's largely a mix issue.

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Operator [21]

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Our next question will be from Brock Vandervliet with UBS.

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Brocker Clinton Vandervliet, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Executive Director & Senior Banks Analyst of Mid Cap [22]

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Could you speak about the sale of Gradifi and how that might affect your expense run rate or anything else going forward? And perhaps, what was behind that transaction? I think the press release explained some of it, but I wanted to review that.

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James H. Herbert, First Republic Bank - Founder, Chairman and CEO [23]

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Sure. Appreciate it. Gradifi was actually -- grew significantly under our ownership. But we decided that it was better placed at E*Trade who has a very large business-to-business activity. And they're adding it to their service offering. We expect to stay on the platform with Gradifi. We love the mission and the process that they have. And we expect to have our employee group stay on it as well, and we're promoting their student loan pay down and save-up activities to our business clients. It will reduce our run rate on expenses a bit, somewhere in the sort of mid-teen millions per year. And that obviously helps a little bit in terms of going forward.

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Brocker Clinton Vandervliet, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Executive Director & Senior Banks Analyst of Mid Cap [24]

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Okay. Great. And separately, Mike, it looked to me like there was a bit of a carry trade strategy almost, if you will, with the increase in borrowings and an increase in investment securities. It looked like that also continued to the end of the quarter. Could you talk about that, and how you think about the balance sheet shape?

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Michael J. Roffler, First Republic Bank - Executive Vice President & CFO [25]

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Yes. I guess I would say this, we found opportunistic purchases in the investment portfolio. And when we look at the funding strategy, as Gaye mentioned before, between sort of CDs and some of the cost of other borrowings, we felt there was a good opportunity to buy in the investments and we funded it with Federal Home Loan Bank in this case.

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Hafize Gaye Erkan, First Republic Bank - President & Director [26]

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And just to add, we do expect, looking forward, the earning asset growth more in line with the mid-teens, just in line with the guidance that we have given.

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Operator [27]

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Our next question will be from Casey Haire with Jefferies.

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Casey Haire, Jefferies LLC, Research Division - VP & Equity Analyst [28]

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I wanted to touch on the C&I loan bucket. It finished a little bit more muted than we're used to seeing. I know you guys had a very strong 2018 in capital call. Just wondering, what is the outlook there? And are you seeing any sort of frothiness or just a lot of competition pushing too hard on price and/or structure?

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Hafize Gaye Erkan, First Republic Bank - President & Director [29]

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There is still competition on the price more so than there has been earlier in the year. We are very pleased when we look at the capital call line commitments, year-over-year, they're up 25%. And so it continues to be a very strong driver of the commitments. And in terms of the outstandings, the utilization rates play a role, and we have seen 4 percentage point drops in the utilization, which kind of creates the volatility in the outstandings. But in terms of commitments and client relationships, acquisition and retention and deepening, we are very pleased with the outcome.

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Casey Haire, Jefferies LLC, Research Division - VP & Equity Analyst [30]

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Okay. Great. So a little bit -- price is under pressure. But structure, it's still -- you're not seeing anyone do anything undisciplined.

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James H. Herbert, First Republic Bank - Founder, Chairman and CEO [31]

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It's Jim. To be clear, we do see some undisciplined lending. We simply don't copy it.

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Hafize Gaye Erkan, First Republic Bank - President & Director [32]

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Yes.

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Casey Haire, Jefferies LLC, Research Division - VP & Equity Analyst [33]

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Got you. Okay. And then, Jim, just a follow-up question for you on student lending. As you mentioned, it's, I think, 35% of your overall households, it's entering its sixth year. What sort of cross-sell experience are you seeing towards the bigger ticket, single-family mortgage, of your student loan households that have graduated towards their first home purchase? How much -- what percentage are going with First Republic or going outside?

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James H. Herbert, First Republic Bank - Founder, Chairman and CEO [34]

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The truth is we don't know if they're going outside very well. We can track it a bit, but it's harder to track. What we do know is that we're getting a fair number of household mortgages out of the base already, a couple of thousand so far, which we consider to be quite good because thinking about the cohort for a moment, these are people that, although they've refinanced with us, still do have significant student loans outstanding, number one. And number two, the average age in the portfolio would be about 33, 34, maybe at the most. And so they are entering the household purchasing age at this point. So far, the younger cohort tend to be purchasing homes at somewhere around 4% or 5% of the cohort per year. So we're actually quite pleased. The cross-sell of other products is going very well. And we appear to be -- the Net Promoter Score, for instance, among this cohort is higher than the bank overall, slightly. And we're getting a fair number of products per client, per household cross-sell that we're very satisfied with.

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Operator [35]

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Our next question will be from Aaron Deer with Piper Sandler Companies.

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Aaron James Deer, Piper Sandler & Co., Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst [36]

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Just wanted to question -- the growth continues to be very strong and the outlook remains quite favorable. Just curious, obviously, at the preferred raise recently. But given the growth expectations, do you expect to continue to maybe lean on preferred or might we see a common raise coming at some point in the near term?

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James H. Herbert, First Republic Bank - Founder, Chairman and CEO [37]

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Well, we've always been opportunistic in the market, as you know. The philosophical base of First Republic is to stay well capitalized at all times and possibly more to the point to stay capitalized ahead of growth so that we're funded in advance of growth.

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Aaron James Deer, Piper Sandler & Co., Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst [38]

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Okay. And then following up on the C&I questions. Gaye, if -- you said that utilization rate was down 4 points. What is the actual number of the utilization rate at period end?

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Hafize Gaye Erkan, First Republic Bank - President & Director [39]

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So it's around mid-30s, but we did make a slight adjustment to the way we calculate the utilization rates to take into account the flex amount. Mike is going to touch on that.

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Michael J. Roffler, First Republic Bank - Executive Vice President & CFO [40]

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Yes. So we're about 35% in the fourth quarter. And I think Gaye have referenced down 4, that was from 39% a year ago. We did make some modest adjustments to total commitments, lowering them for certain capital calls where a total amount is part of the loan agreement. But there's some limitation until certain acts occur, and they have to get future credit approval. And so we just lowered commitments ever so slightly for that.

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Aaron James Deer, Piper Sandler & Co., Research Division - MD & Senior Research Analyst [41]

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Okay. So what are the total commitments at this point?

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Michael J. Roffler, First Republic Bank - Executive Vice President & CFO [42]

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Line commitments are just under $19 billion. And that's a 16% increase from a year ago, for business lines.

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Hafize Gaye Erkan, First Republic Bank - President & Director [43]

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Yes. Business line commitments and term loans together is about $24 billion. And then to just do the math on the utilization, it's about 2 to 3 percentage point difference between this pre-recast and post-recast. So the new range would be around mid-30s to low 40s is kind of where we are seeing utilizations when you look at the last 2 years with that adjustment.

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Operator [44]

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Our next question will be from Arren Cyganovich with Citi.

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Arren Saul Cyganovich, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - VP & Senior Analyst [45]

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Just looking at the unsecured part of your loan book, with the student lending has obviously been growing very solid, but it seemed like it may have decelerated a little bit in the recent quarters. Is there anything in particular that's driving the unsecured loans to slow down there?

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James H. Herbert, First Republic Bank - Founder, Chairman and CEO [46]

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No. Not really other than this last year, we implemented a full range of pricing based upon how much business you do with the bank. And that actually slowed down our new acquisitions slightly, but it raised the quality of those that we acquired considerably. So net-net, it's actually quite positive.

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Michael J. Roffler, First Republic Bank - Executive Vice President & CFO [47]

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The other thing I'd add is as the portfolio matures, you have more and more repayment activity happening. So even if we did the same numbers or slightly up each year, you've got more cash flows coming back in the portfolio like you do on any amortizing consumer portfolio.

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Arren Saul Cyganovich, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - VP & Senior Analyst [48]

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Got it. Okay. And separately, the professional fees kind of jumped a bit. Was that related to CECL or the core conversion? And how do you think about professional fees as we go out through the year?

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Michael J. Roffler, First Republic Bank - Executive Vice President & CFO [49]

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Yes. So there's a little bit in there from, obviously, the sale of Gradifi, some professional fees associated with that. And we have started to incur some of more core-related costs. It might come down just slightly, but I wouldn't think a lot from here. It's probably $2 million extra this quarter.

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Operator [50]

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Our next question will be from Brian Foran.

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Brian D. Foran, Autonomous Research LLP - Partner & US Regional Banks [51]

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I was hoping to ask about two tax-related issues for your customers. One, there's a lot of press recently around Prop 13 in California and just kind of how you're thinking about that, what you're hearing from borrowers if it does go forward? And then two, SALT is back in the press, and it's always hard to discern, is it just anecdotes about people moving from New York to Florida and things like that? Or is it actually having an impact? So as you look across your business and talk to your borrowers, has anything risen beyond those kind of one-off anecdotes in terms of people migrating to lower tax states?

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James H. Herbert, First Republic Bank - Founder, Chairman and CEO [52]

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I would say, as a practical matter, there's an increasing number of anecdotal examples, but there's not a flood by number of households by any means. The size of the households that are migrating are considerable. And so I think the amount of dollars being shifted from the tax states to the lower tax states is increasing reasonably rapidly. And it's hard to put your finger on exactly what tips people over. I think the thing that press isn't speaking of is we need to remember the demographic bubble happening among baby boomers. They're arriving at their retirement age just as this is happening. So it probably is accelerating what might have been a somewhat natural event anyway, particularly in the Florida situation, for instance, from the Northeast, things like that. Wyoming is obviously a beneficiary of this. And it hasn't been lost on us that it's a good time to be opening there.

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Hafize Gaye Erkan, First Republic Bank - President & Director [53]

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And we just opened our -- yesterday, we opened our Palm Beach Gardens PBO in Florida and others to follow.

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James H. Herbert, First Republic Bank - Founder, Chairman and CEO [54]

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So now we have 3 offices in that area.

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Hafize Gaye Erkan, First Republic Bank - President & Director [55]

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Yes.

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Brian D. Foran, Autonomous Research LLP - Partner & US Regional Banks [56]

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And then on Prop 13, just kind of any thoughts on real estate impacts in California?

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James H. Herbert, First Republic Bank - Founder, Chairman and CEO [57]

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I think it's too early to know. The fundamental characteristic of California, urban real estate, is there's simply a shortage of supply.

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Operator [58]

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Our next question will be from Lana Chan with BMO Capital Markets.

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Lana Chan, BMO Capital Markets Equity Research - MD & Senior Equity Analyst [59]

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Just wondering if you could give us the spot rate for deposits at the end of the quarter. I think you usually had that number for us?

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Hafize Gaye Erkan, First Republic Bank - President & Director [60]

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It's in line with the fourth quarter average, high 50s.

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Lana Chan, BMO Capital Markets Equity Research - MD & Senior Equity Analyst [61]

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Okay. And what was the new purchase money on the securities added in the fourth quarter?

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Hafize Gaye Erkan, First Republic Bank - President & Director [62]

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So the fourth quarter was around 3.25% for the year. The purchases were around mid-3s. And then new money for the munis is about 3.25%, 3.3%. And therefore, the HQLA high 2s. These are all TEYs.

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Lana Chan, BMO Capital Markets Equity Research - MD & Senior Equity Analyst [63]

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Okay, great. And could you also give us an update in terms of, I guess, you mentioned it a little bit before, but the planned office openings, a couple more in Florida. And what is the new schedule for the Hudson Yards and the other new openings?

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James H. Herbert, First Republic Bank - Founder, Chairman and CEO [64]

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Depending on the timing on Hudson Yards opening this year, will be -- towards the end of the year, we'll open several offices. Where mostly this year, we'll be mostly focused on New York City. Then as Gaye went through this past year, it's been focused in broad way around the franchise. New York, we will be opening sometime in the next 12 to 14 months, about 4 offices in the Hudson Yards area in addition to office space in which we will have teams. They'll open very much towards the end of the year or the first of next but mostly the end of this year. We also have another location in -- 2 more locations in the New York City area that will be opening late in the year as well. So we're probably -- in the next 15 months, let's say, we would expect to open about 6 new offices in the New York City area.

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Operator [65]

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Our next question will be from David Chiaverini with Wedbush Securities.

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David John Chiaverini, Wedbush Securities Inc., Research Division - Senior Analyst [66]

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I wanted to touch on your single-family residential outlook. You mentioned about how the growth tends to be seasonally slower in the first quarter. I was curious, are you also seeing appetite waning for refi at this point? Or is it still a tailwind into the first quarter?

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James H. Herbert, First Republic Bank - Founder, Chairman and CEO [67]

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I would say it's a modest tailwind. It slowed down a little bit as the rates are settling right around a little above 3. And so I would say it's a modest tailwind. But mostly, it's the holidays and the slowness that comes from that.

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David John Chiaverini, Wedbush Securities Inc., Research Division - Senior Analyst [68]

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Okay. And then shifting to the efficiency ratio. I was curious as to the driver behind the lower guidance of 63.5% to 64.5%. Is Gradifi the main driver here? Or are there any expenses or projects you're pulling back on?

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Michael J. Roffler, First Republic Bank - Executive Vice President & CFO [69]

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Nothing from a project that is sort of a client -- that is client-service focused or is going to help us continue to add and acquire households. I think part of it is the team really did a great job of prioritizing and looking at where is the best place to make investments in the franchise and our infrastructure and try to be more aligned with the revenue outlook, which is reflective of a slightly lower margin than we had this year and just being very disciplined and focused on where the best investments can be made to continue to serve households for the bank.

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Hafize Gaye Erkan, First Republic Bank - President & Director [70]

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And just to reinforce Mike's point, we continue to make investments into our infrastructure to be commensurate with the growth of the organization. And we are not going to compromise -- when it comes to prudent expense management, we are not going to compromise on safety, soundness or client service excellence or culture and employee engagement. So those are the core pillars we will continue to invest prudently.

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David John Chiaverini, Wedbush Securities Inc., Research Division - Senior Analyst [71]

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And one last housekeeping. FDIC assessments. I saw that jumped up in the quarter. Any commentary there as to whether that's a good new run rate going forward?

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Michael J. Roffler, First Republic Bank - Executive Vice President & CFO [72]

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So it typically increases a bit, given the growth in our average assets, which is the biggest driver, sort of your assessment basis side of the bank. And so that's the main reason it would have jumped in the quarter. If the asset base continues to increase, you'll continue to see modest increases, I would say.

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Operator [73]

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Our next question will be from Jared Shaw with Wells Fargo Securities.

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Jared David Wesley Shaw, Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Analyst [74]

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Looking at the investment fees, even excluding that $9 million of incentive fee, it looks like you're starting to see some growth there. Should we expect to see continued sort of extension in the fee level as a percentage of AUM? Or is where we are here in the high 50s, a good level?

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Michael J. Roffler, First Republic Bank - Executive Vice President & CFO [75]

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We think the high 50s is a good level. We're happy to see it sort of stabilized and maybe even a little bit better, but the high 50s is the right place to be, looking back to the start of the period, right? So fees divided by the prior starting point.

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Jared David Wesley Shaw, Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Analyst [76]

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Right. Right. And is any of that improvement -- is that just general pricing improvement? Or is that due to an improvement maybe in mix with the Luminous group now off the platform?

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Michael J. Roffler, First Republic Bank - Executive Vice President & CFO [77]

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Earlier this year, we did have more people in fixed income that does put the fees down slightly because there's less of a charge there. But I don't think it's anything systemic or I'm not sure Luminous would have driven it that differently. I think it's more of a stabilizing amount. And I also think that growth in assets sometimes can distort a little bit, depending on when you hire or when the assets come. But if you look back over the long periods of time, sort of 56, 57, 58 basis points has been a pretty good range for us.

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Jared David Wesley Shaw, Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division - MD & Senior Analyst [78]

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Okay. That's great color. And then just finally, on the infrastructure investments that you referenced, anything -- any major strategies or investments that are coming up besides the core systems or is it just more things associated around the edges without any major projects that we should be planning as well?

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Hafize Gaye Erkan, First Republic Bank - President & Director [79]

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As you said, it's mainly core. And both FIS and Fiserv will continue to work with both of them. They've been great technology partners, and they will continue to do so. There are other lesser-scope projects that we have been continuing on, wire system improvements or corporate online enhancements given our business deposits to delight our clients further. But in general, on the expense side, 63.5% to 64.5% is what encompasses all these projects.

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Operator [80]

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Our next question will be from Garrett Holland with Baird.

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Garrett Anthony Holland, Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated, Research Division - Analyst [81]

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I just had a couple related to the balance sheet's updated rate sensitivity. The futures market is a bit all over the place. But were we to see a Fed rate cut in the back half of 2020, can you help us size the potential NIM impact in that subsequent quarter? And then conversely, if the yield curve were to steepen, say, 25 basis points with no change in competition, then what would be the margin benefit?

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Michael J. Roffler, First Republic Bank - Executive Vice President & CFO [82]

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A little bit steeper yield curve, to take the second part first, would be a little bit beneficial and probably stabilize the margin, with the one key caveat you said, that competition doesn't behave differently than such move in the curve. And depending on how they react, we obviously would follow suit because we're going to serve our clients and do the best thing for them. On the one rate cut, if it's in July to September period, for the year, probably doesn't have a big impact because we'd lose a little bit on our loan yields because about 25% of the portfolio is tied to short-term rates, although about 20%, call it LIBOR and prime. And we have a little relief on deposits. So I think it's probably a couple of basis points impact, but not a very large impact lower.

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Operator [83]

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Our next question will be from Jon Arfstrom with RBC Capital Markets.

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Jon Glenn Arfstrom, RBC Capital Markets, Research Division - MD of Financial Services Equity Research [84]

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A quick follow-up on that, Mike. What is the message in terms of the margin trajectory? I hear what you're saying on Q1, but it feels like that's basically it for margin pressure once you get the asset repricing through, and you're maybe signaling stability from there. Is that fair?

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Michael J. Roffler, First Republic Bank - Executive Vice President & CFO [85]

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I think that as we talked about, 2.65% to 2.75% for the year, but we're probably in the middle to the lower part of that range. So if you're down a few basis points in the first quarter, there might be a couple more to go, I would say. But then sort of stability in the back half of the year.

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Jon Glenn Arfstrom, RBC Capital Markets, Research Division - MD of Financial Services Equity Research [86]

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Okay. Good. Message on deposit costs, it sounds like relatively stable, is what you're thinking on deposit pricing?

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Hafize Gaye Erkan, First Republic Bank - President & Director [87]

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Yes. In general, around 59 and spot trade is high 50s, absent any other Fed moves or rate cuts, that would largely stabilize here. And just to bring it all together, so the rate locks on the loan side are slightly lower than what we have on the books and then the deposit cost stabilizing around here, thus the guidance that Mike has provided slightly lower in Q1 and the lower half of the 2.65%, 2.75% range for the year.

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Jon Glenn Arfstrom, RBC Capital Markets, Research Division - MD of Financial Services Equity Research [88]

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Okay. Good. That's helpful. And then, Jim, one for you. Obviously, very positive numbers, but I just want to ask on the NPL balances jumped up a couple of quarters ago, and I know it sounds like it was a few bigger deals. Any update there that you can provide for us?

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James H. Herbert, First Republic Bank - Founder, Chairman and CEO [89]

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No. It's the same situation. We've got one of our larger -- well, not large, but a decent concentration that we've got in nonperforming, although it continues to pay current. And so we don't really have any update on it at this point. The good news is we're not -- we had -- we did not add anything to that list, particularly in this quarter.

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Operator [90]

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Thank you. I'm showing no further questions at this time. I'd like to turn the call back to Jim Herbert for closing remarks.

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James H. Herbert, First Republic Bank - Founder, Chairman and CEO [91]

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Thank you all very much for taking the time on the call today. We appreciate it. Have a good day.

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Operator [92]

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Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes today's teleconference. You may now disconnect.