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Edited Transcript of HBHC earnings conference call or presentation 17-Jan-19 2:30pm GMT

Q4 2018 Hancock Whitney Corp Earnings Call

GULFPORT Jan 19, 2019 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Hancock Whitney Corp earnings conference call or presentation Thursday, January 17, 2019 at 2:30:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* John M. Hairston

Hancock Whitney Corporation - President, CEO & Director

* Michael M. Achary

Hancock Whitney Corporation - Senior EVP & CFO

* Samuel B. Kendricks

Hancock Whitney Corporation - Chief Credit Risk Officer & Executive VP

* Trisha Voltz Carlson

Hancock Whitney Corporation - Executive VP & IR Manager

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Conference Call Participants

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* Bradley Jason Milsaps

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

* Brett D. Rabatin

Piper Jaffray Companies, Research Division - Senior Research Analyst

* Catherine Fitzhugh Summerson Mealor

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

* Christopher William Marinac

FIG Partners, LLC, Research Division - Director of Research

* Ebrahim Huseini Poonawala

BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Director

* Jennifer Haskew Demba

SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc., Research Division - MD

* Matthew Covington Olney

Stephens Inc., Research Division - MD

* Michael Edward Rose

Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - MD of Equity Research

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Hancock Whitney Corporation's Fourth Quarter 2018 Earnings Conference Call. (Operator Instructions) As a reminder, this call may be recorded.

I would now like to introduce your host for today's conference, Trisha Carlson, Investor Relations Manager. You may begin.

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Trisha Voltz Carlson, Hancock Whitney Corporation - Executive VP & IR Manager [2]

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Thank you, and good morning. During today's call, we may make forward-looking statements. We would like to remind everyone to review the safe harbor language that was published with yesterday's release and presentation and in the company's most recent 10-K, including the risks and uncertainties identified therein. Hancock Whitney's ability to accurately project results or predict the effects of future plans or strategies or predict market or economic developments is inherently limited. We believe that the expectations reflected or implied by any forward-looking statements are based on reasonable assumptions, but our actual results and performance could differ materially from those set forth in our forward-looking statements. Hancock undertakes no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements, and you are cautioned not to place undue reliance on such forward-looking statements. In addition, some of the remarks this morning contain non-GAAP financial measures. You can find reconciliations to the most comparable GAAP measures in our earnings release and financial tables. The presentation slides included in our 8-K are also posted with the conference call webcast link on the Investor Relations website. We will reference some of these slides in today's call. Participating in today's call are John Hairston, President and CEO; Mike Achary, CFO; and Sam Kendricks, Chief Credit Risk Officer.

I will now turn the call over to John Hairston.

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John M. Hairston, Hancock Whitney Corporation - President, CEO & Director [3]

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Thanks, Trisha, and thanks everyone for joining us today. As we begin 2019, we are pleased to end the previous year with solid fourth quarter results and significantly improved performance for 2018 as a whole. For the full year of 2018, on an operating basis, net income was up almost $100 million or 38%, earnings per share increased $1.10 to just under $4 per share, and ROA was up 29 basis points to 1.25%. Loans grew approximately $1 billion or 5% from the end of 2017. Commercial criticized loans declined $451 million or 42% during the year. And we achieved our goal of reducing our energy exposure to approximately 5%. The year ended with TCE back above 8% and improved operating leverage of $38 million.

We consolidated our 2 brands midyear and closed 2 transactions: the consumer finance divestiture in early March; and the trust and asset management acquisition in early July. During the fourth quarter, loans increased almost $500 million, exceeding our initial expectations and surpassing $20 billion in total. This net growth includes the sale of $116 million in lower-yielding municipal loans, which Mike will discuss shortly.

Outperformance of loan growth occurred primarily due to new opportunities generated that were not in the pipeline in early October and expected fourth quarter payoffs on certain credits that moved to the first quarter of 2019. You can see from the chart on Slide 8 that the growth was spread evenly across our footprint with each region exceeding $100 million in net growth. Another driver of the quarter's growth was related to our efforts to rebalance the energy portfolio.

As discussed in previous quarters, we intend to maintain an approximate 5% concentration in total energy loans. But with a targeted shift in our energy portfolio that emphasizes the upstream and midstream business sectors, our goal is to shift our energy portfolio so it is approximately 1/3 energy services and 2/3 upstream and midstream business sectors. This quarter marks the first time that energy services is less than 1/2 of our overall energy portfolio, falling to 47% of the total. We expect our overall energy balances to remain at 5% of total loans or thereabouts but continue to shift the mix throughout 2019.

The chart on Slide 9 details progress related to energy portfolio mix thus far. Criticized and nonperforming loans improved again this quarter. Criticized commercial loans were down just over $200 million or 25% linked quarter, and nonperforming loans were down just under $40 million or 10% from September 30. We would be disappointed if improvement in asset quality metrics failed to continue. And we expect to approach peer levels over the next several quarters.

We did have one large energy services-related charge-off this quarter at $16 million, which was previously reserved for. While we certainly don't want to see losses at any level, we believe we have addressed the last sizable issue in the portfolio of credits we stressed at the beginning of the cycle and are pleased that our estimates proved to be generally reliable. We would be disappointed if any additional energy charge-offs resulted in a material impact on provision. That doesn't mean there is any guarantee of 0 charge-offs or 0 recoveries, it means we believe we have reached the normal course of business due to the waning energy cycle.

For the time being, we will maintain our current ample energy reserve until remaining criticized energy credit percentages normalize. The remaining $12 million in charge-offs were unremarkable with a $5 million loss on a single non-energy C&I credit, which, like the energy services credit, was previously reserved for. This charge does not represent anything systemic and was a unique event. The EPS, ROA and ROTCE results allowed us to achieve our important 2019 corporate strategic objectives a year early. And we adopted new objectives for fourth quarter 2020 that are detailed on Slide 20. These updated CSOs reflect our expectations of continued performance and profitability improvement in the future.

I'll now turn the call over to Mike for a few additional comments and details.

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Michael M. Achary, Hancock Whitney Corporation - Senior EVP & CFO [4]

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Thanks, John, and good morning to everyone. As John said, it was a solid quarter. Fourth quarter EPS was $1.10, with net income up 15% from last quarter.

On an operating basis, EPS was $1.12 so up $0.11 per share from last quarter. Nonoperating expense items for the quarter totaled $2.5 million and were partially offset by a $600,000 net gain on the sale of securities related to a portfolio restructuring we executed in the fourth quarter.

So in late fourth quarter, we sold 192,000 shares of our VISA-B stock for a net gain of $33.2 million. That gain offset losses totaling $32.7 million associated with the sale of $481 million of lower-yielding bonds at 1.97% and $116 million of lower-yielding municipal loans at 2.02%. Proceeds from the sales were used to purchase $260 million of higher-yielding bonds at 3.59% and to pay down $346 million of advances at 2.37%. The VISA-B trade and related restructuring improved the company's yields on investment securities and loans while also improving our funding mix in 2019. We expect the net interest margin to benefit by a total of 7 basis points as a result of these trades and to boost EPS by $0.05 per share annualized. Please see a summary of the restructuring transaction on Slide 7 of our earnings deck.

Last quarter, we talked about opportunities to expand our NIM going forward. So for the fourth quarter, we were able to expand our NIM by 3 basis points to 3.39%. The chart on the bottom right of Slide 13 shows the drivers of that expansion. There were no net interest recoveries or reversals in the fourth quarter compared to 2 basis points of net recoveries in the third quarter. That brought the start point for the fourth quarter NIM down to 3.34%. So overall, we were able to expand our NIM by 5 basis points this quarter. The portfolio restructuring I mentioned earlier was completed late in the quarter but did add 2 basis points of NIM improvement in the fourth quarter, with an additional 5 basis points expected in the first quarter of next year.

Favorable changes in our funding mix due to seasonal deposit growth added 2 basis points, as did the favorable earning asset mix from runoff of bonds to fund loan growth. As we move into first quarter '19, we expect the NIM will expand by approximately 4 to 6 basis points. How our funding mix performs in the first quarter will likely determine what end of that range the NIM comes in at.

Fourth quarter seasonality drove a nice increase in deposits, which resulted in a favorable funding mix for the quarter and helped us report a bit lower deposit beta. Total deposits were up $732 million linked quarter, with most of that growth in DDA and public funds. In addition, there was a shift from brokered to retail CDs. I'll remind you that the growth related to public funds is seasonal, and therefore, we do expect a portion will begin to run off in the first quarter. This will change our funding mix, once again, and could lead to a higher cost of funds in the first quarter.

Seasonality also positively impacted bankcard and ATM fees this quarter, while both trust fees and investment and annuity income was down related to market conditions. We kept a handle on operating expenses with only a slight overall increase. A full quarter's impact with the trust and asset management acquisition, especially related to personnel expense was offset by other items. As we previously indicated, we implemented some tax reform strategies in the quarter that lowered our effective tax rate to 8%. This compared to our original guidance early in the year for 15% in the fourth quarter.

We expect the rate will return to a more normal level of between 17% and 19% in the first quarter. As John mentioned, TCE topped 8% this quarter. And we are happy to be back above that target. We did buy back 200,000 shares during the quarter as we chose to remain focused on building capital. Our outlook today is to remain opportunistic on buybacks and to continue to manage capital in the best interest of our shareholders.

I will now turn the call back over to John.

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John M. Hairston, Hancock Whitney Corporation - President, CEO & Director [5]

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Thanks, Mike. And with that, let's just open the call for questions.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions) And our first question comes from the line of Catherine Mealor of KBW.

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Catherine Fitzhugh Summerson Mealor, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - MD and SVP [2]

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I want to first start on the margin. So really nice expansion this quarter, as you mentioned, Mike. And things like you're expecting another 5 bps improvement in the first quarter just from the restructuring, and so then if I compare that to your 4 to 6 bps guidance for the quarter, it feels like you're really at net the restructuring. Your guidance for the margin for the near-term is effectively stable. So I guess that's question one. And then question 2, on top of that is as we look out to next year and we think about what the Fed does, how do you think about upside you potentially could have for your margin if the Fed stops now? And then how it looks if we see another couple of rate hikes?

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Michael M. Achary, Hancock Whitney Corporation - Senior EVP & CFO [3]

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Yes, thank you, Catherine. So again, related to the restructuring that we effected this quarter, 7 basis points of NIM improvement in total. We got 2 basis points of that in the fourth quarter, and we're expecting another 5 in the first quarter of '19. So the guidance for the quarter coming up 4 to 6 obviously accounts for those 5 basis points related to the restructuring transaction. But then I think it also, in part, is going to be dependent upon, as I said in the prepared comments, around what kind of happens to our funding mix as we go forward. So certainly in the fourth quarter, we benefited from the seasonality of deposit inflows, primarily, the DDAs that came in at quarter end. But then also the public fund money helped us to be less reliant on borrowed funds this quarter than we have been in the past. So I think -- again, as I mentioned in the comments, whether the NIM comes up at the bottom or at top of the 4 to 6 basis points range, at least for the first quarter, it's going to be I think very dependent upon what happens to that funding mix. Again, from a seasonality point of view, we usually see some of those deposits begin to flow out as we move through the quarter. And then especially on the public fund side, that accelerates as we move into the spring time. And then your other question around upside a little bit later in the year. I think as we go through the latter part of the year, and kind of a basic assumption is that the Fed does move to the sidelines a bit and doesn't engage in rate hikes in 2019, I think one of the bigger determinants of whether we have some upside related to NIM is going to be deposit cost and again, deposit mix. So we do think that as we go through the first quarter and even in the spring, there's certainly some potential for deposit betas to catch up a little bit, even if the Fed does stay on the sidelines. But at that point, we'd certainly expect deposit rates to begin moving sideways a bit. And I think that, coupled with the strategies that we have in place to grow some of our loan segments that tend to be a little higher yielding, give us a little bit of potential for upside related to the NIM.

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Catherine Fitzhugh Summerson Mealor, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - MD and SVP [4]

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That make sense. And then is it -- and then on that, it feels like you're CSO goals and if you're going to hit that 1.4% ROA, it feels like the biggest way to get there is probably some margin expansion. Is that a fair assessment? Or can you get there with the margin at basically these levels?

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John M. Hairston, Hancock Whitney Corporation - President, CEO & Director [5]

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Well, it's not any one thing that's going to get us there, but it's all the components that we have built into our business plan. So certainly one component is to continue to grow our loan portfolio. And again, to grow that in the higher-yielding loan segments that we've kind of targeted, certainly, our funding mix and how we fare with controlling deposit cost are big factors as well. We also, related to fee income, expect a little bit in the way of outsized growth from some of our wealth management segments, trust in particular but also investment sales. And I think, card fees is certainly something we're counting on also to give us a little bit in the way of outsized growth. All those things in the context of controlling expenses is really how we get there.

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Operator [6]

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And our next question is from the line of Michael Rose of Raymond James.

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Michael Edward Rose, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - MD of Equity Research [7]

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Can you guys hear me?

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John M. Hairston, Hancock Whitney Corporation - President, CEO & Director [8]

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Yes, good morning.

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Michael M. Achary, Hancock Whitney Corporation - Senior EVP & CFO [9]

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Yes.

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Michael Edward Rose, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - MD of Equity Research [10]

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Sorry about that. Maybe just following up on the CSO question, can you give us the type of environment that you would need to see to kind of get there? And maybe just from a credit perspective and interest rate perspective, loan growth and environment perspective, just what are some of the assumptions that go into achieving some of those CSOs that you've laid out?

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Samuel B. Kendricks, Hancock Whitney Corporation - Chief Credit Risk Officer & Executive VP [11]

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Okay. Thanks for the question, Michael. Mike Achary commented on the need to grow the loan portfolio and higher-yielding segments. And that's pretty much the requirement to do if we're going to see the types of NIM expansion that we envisioned necessary to get to our peer norm. Right now we underperform on NIM, and we're very anxious and interested in closing that gap. So our ability to grow credits at the lower end and size and granularity in the portfolio is going to be important. That change has been yielding good fruit. And we've been seeing that throughout the year. And the production levels for 4Q '18 versus '17 in those segments have been impressive. The -- and we would expect to see that continue throughout the year based on the investments and the focus we have in that area. Another area that -- I don't know if Mike mentioned expenses or not, but we continue to reinvest heavily in those areas of the company that help with those NIM expansion, loan growth in granular segments, deposit retention, and that it will include digital investments. And so as we invest in those types of utilities that helps our bankers be more effective and our clients more sticky inside our book, we have to be very good at containing other cost to act as somewhat of an offset to that growth. So managing expenses well while those investments occur and then that result in better operating leverage over the next couple of years is very important. With respect to the environment, obviously, we don't have a really ugly recession built into those types of goals. So if the macroeconomic conditions were to degrade, the industry would be under a little bit more pressure. And we didn't really make any bets one way or the other in the numbers for that, we assumed a relatively steady state.

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Michael M. Achary, Hancock Whitney Corporation - Senior EVP & CFO [12]

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Michael, the only thing I would add to that is, again, and we have this footnoted on the CSO slide, but we're not assuming really any change in the interest rate environment over the course of '19 and '20. So we have no rate hikes built into those projections that get us there. And then also, we're not assuming that we would engage any -- in any additional M&A activity.

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Michael Edward Rose, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - MD of Equity Research [13]

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Yes, I understand the no change in rates. But maybe any commentary around the shape of the curve? Does that have any sort of impact?

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Michael M. Achary, Hancock Whitney Corporation - Senior EVP & CFO [14]

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Sure it does. And certainly again, when we talk about no rate hikes and no change in the interest rate environment, that's inclusive of really the shape of the curve.

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Michael Edward Rose, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - MD of Equity Research [15]

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Okay, that's helpful. And then maybe just one follow-up for me. You guys are back to 8% TCE, bought back a little bit of stock earlier in the quarter. As we move forward and particularly into 2020, it looks like capital will begin to really build here. So what are your capital strategic priorities? And does M&A come into the fold again at some point?

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Michael M. Achary, Hancock Whitney Corporation - Senior EVP & CFO [16]

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I think most of all, certainly, on a shorter-term basis, meaning the next couple of quarters, we're in the mode where we would very much like to continue to build capital, again, for another couple of quarters. And then certainly as we get to the back half of the year, we'll look to address things like the possibility of any kind of strategic buybacks or even a dividend increase. So we also have, in terms of our capital plan, a desire to have our dividend payout ratio between 30% and 40%. So this quarter, for example, it is 25%. So that's something we would like to address. As far as M&A, the stance there really hasn't changed. We have no interest right now in any large bank or strategic M&A-type transactions. We do pay attention and certainly look at smaller kind of infield deals. But even those transactions would need to fit pretty tight criteria and certainly be viewed as kind of a value transaction as opposed to something a little bit more strategic. In the event that we get into 2020 and again find ourselves in a position potentially where we build some capital, certainly, those priorities could change. But that will depend on the circumstances and I think where we are at that time.

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Michael Edward Rose, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - MD of Equity Research [17]

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Okay, and maybe just one follow-up on that. Just given the fact that where your stock is, I mean any thoughts on raising some Tier 2 to maybe fund some additional buybacks in the near term? We've seen several, I'd say, larger banks enact that strategy. So any thought given to that?

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Michael M. Achary, Hancock Whitney Corporation - Senior EVP & CFO [18]

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Yes, sure. Certainly that's something we'll consider. Again, as I mentioned, probably more likely in the back half of this year.

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Operator [19]

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And our next question is from the line of Brad Milsaps of Sandler O'Neill.

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Bradley Jason Milsaps, Sandler O'Neill + Partners, L.P., Research Division - MD of Equity Research [20]

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Mike, just kind of curious, appetite around the balance sheet to further reduce the securities portfolio, I'm curious if that also is part of your strategy to hit the CSOs as you try to drive more NIM expansion. Just kind of curious further opportunities to reduce that there. And then how many more VISA shares do you have left? Are there any opportunities for further restructuring? Or have you exhausted most of the gain you had there?

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Michael M. Achary, Hancock Whitney Corporation - Senior EVP & CFO [21]

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Yes, related to the VISA-B shares, we did retain a small level of those, but for the most part, we did sell the vast majority of what we owned. As far as the bond portfolio, certainly, in addition to the impacts of the VISA-B restructuring transaction, we've been in a mode the last couple of quarters where we've been letting cash flow from our bond portfolio help fund loan growth, thereby improving our earning asset mix, and certainly that was a big help this past quarter as well. As we stand right now, the size of our bond portfolio is about 20% of our total asset base. That's right around the level that we'd like to maintain the bond portfolio. But certainly, we're also very, very open to continuing the tactic of letting the bonds roll off and -- or maturities and cash flow out of the bond portfolio roll off and help to fund loan growth. So certainly that's something that we could avail or could continue to avail ourselves of as we go through the next couple of quarters.

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Bradley Jason Milsaps, Sandler O'Neill + Partners, L.P., Research Division - MD of Equity Research [22]

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Great. And then maybe just one follow-up on asset quality. I understand you had the couple clean-up credit this quarter that you had reserved for. Obviously, it looks like criticized, NPLs, all going the right direction. The reserve now, though, is below 1% of loans. You've kind of given guidance for a similar provision in the first quarter. Just kind of curious how you're thinking about providing for some of these higher-yielding loan growth categories going forward as kind of sub-1% kind of a level to think about. Or is this something you would see build over time?

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Michael M. Achary, Hancock Whitney Corporation - Senior EVP & CFO [23]

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Well that'll depend, I think, obviously, what happens in terms of future charge-offs. There is nothing that's out there that's looming that we haven't kind of dealt with already. So I think from a credit perspective and how we think about our ALLL, somewhere around the 1% level I think is a good place for us to be. So I would look for provisioning to kind of be aimed towards maintaining an ALLL, somewhere in that range.

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Operator [24]

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And our next question is from the line of Ebrahim Poonawala of Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

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Ebrahim Huseini Poonawala, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Director [25]

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Just wanted to follow up on your margin comments, Mike. And sorry, if I missed some of this. But one, was there any seasonal outflows that we should look out for in terms of the non-interest bank deposits? Because that trust -- seems like the public fund is all in interest-bearing. Are there any seasonal outflows in NIB in 1Q that we should be expecting?

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Michael M. Achary, Hancock Whitney Corporation - Senior EVP & CFO [26]

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Yes, Ebrahim. Certainly, again, and as I mentioned before, the fourth quarter has that aspect of seasonality where we typically have pretty nice inflows of DDA deposits. Those DDA deposits tend to be corporate and upper middle market customers as well as the public fund inflows. And certainly both categories of those deposit inflows this quarter were extremely helpful to our NIM and to our funding mix and again, enabled us to be much less reliant on borrowed funds. So as we move into the first quarter, certainly, we do see the beginning of some outflows related to both of those deposit categories. The public funds tend to roll off beginning in the first quarter and really kind of picking up a little bit momentum as we move into the second quarter. The DDA deposits have a tendency to stay just a little bit longer on some occasions and sometimes begin to flow out again as we move into the latter part of the first quarter, into the second quarter. So again, when we gave the range for the first quarter in terms of our NIM from 4 to 6., I think the timing and magnitude of those outflows will really, more than anything else, determine whether we come in at the bottom of that range or potentially at the top of that range. So seasonality and timing is certainly a big factor.

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Ebrahim Huseini Poonawala, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Director [27]

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Understood. And thanks for going through that again. Appreciate that. And just bigger picture, Mike, means as I take a step back, I think the -- is it safe to assume, means, if the Fed doesn't go anymore, the mix shift that we've seen in -- toward CDs away from NIB deposits that continuing where absent the rate hike, like 1Q should be the high watermark, and the NIM probably drifts lower from there? Or does the -- sort of, loan-to-deposit ratio going higher, like how do you think about managing the margin in that context?

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Michael M. Achary, Hancock Whitney Corporation - Senior EVP & CFO [28]

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Well, again, as mentioned before, we believe what could happen certainly if the Fed remains on the sidelines is that at least for the next quarter or so, maybe 2 quarters, we go through a period where deposit betas finally kind of complete the process of catching up and then go sideways from that point. So again, on a little bit longer-term basis, related to our NIM, that'll become a bigger factor as well as the success we have as John mentioned earlier around growing our loan segments that give us the best potentials to increase our loan yield.

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Ebrahim Huseini Poonawala, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Director [29]

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Understood. And just separately moving to loan growth. On Slide 8, you mentioned -- you called out the healthcare team in Nashville having pretty good growth. Can you remind us in terms of the size of the healthcare book? And in terms of are these loans, most of them, either larger loans either SNCs? Would Love to get more color just because there is fair amount of credit concern around healthcare exposure of the banks, and we've seen some hiccups over the last year. So understanding just in terms of your underwriting approach, risk inherent in that portfolio would be helpful.

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John M. Hairston, Hancock Whitney Corporation - President, CEO & Director [30]

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Ebrahim, this is John. It was a pretty good quarter for health care, maybe not as large as others. But what's in that book from our Nashville group is a very diverse group of credits. We really don't have much of a concentration team on type of health care in that pie. And so we would really have not had a lot of concerns over any credit-related trends and really haven't seen any degradation. Sam, do you have any commentary you'd like to add to that?

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Samuel B. Kendricks, Hancock Whitney Corporation - Chief Credit Risk Officer & Executive VP [31]

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Other than we stay very attuned to the development issues in healthcare generally, we're obviously attuned to the comings and goings as far as the legislative issues. Right now, simply a bit of gridlock relative to ACA, et cetera. So that group has done a good job of continuing to calibrate the portfolio based on our expectations around emerging issues, et cetera. So we feel very confident in the team. And their ability to continue to match that portfolio. We have moved to a fresh team. And now the portfolio based on sort of our changing comfort level among various segments depending on what the emerging issues of the day are.

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Ebrahim Huseini Poonawala, BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division - Director [32]

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Got it. And how big is the healthcare book? And how much of those of mix?

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Samuel B. Kendricks, Hancock Whitney Corporation - Chief Credit Risk Officer & Executive VP [33]

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We -- Tennessee healthcare group manages a very specific portfolio. We have a large enough healthcare portfolio across the market. I'm sorry.

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John M. Hairston, Hancock Whitney Corporation - President, CEO & Director [34]

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Have we talked about that? But yes, I think that's about $600 million to the Nashville healthcare.

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Samuel B. Kendricks, Hancock Whitney Corporation - Chief Credit Risk Officer & Executive VP [35]

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In the Nashville group. Yes, that's correct.

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John M. Hairston, Hancock Whitney Corporation - President, CEO & Director [36]

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And from a growth perspective, we think that's going to be relatively flat in the first quarter.

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Operator [37]

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And our next question is from the line of Brett Rabatin of Piper Jaffray.

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Brett D. Rabatin, Piper Jaffray Companies, Research Division - Senior Research Analyst [38]

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Wanted to just go back to growth for a second. And just thinking about 2019, and you've gotten energy down to where you wanted it. I guess, I'm just curious, can you guide us, maybe give us a little color around like the bigger segments that you think will drive the growth in '19? And kind of where you see the opportunities in the various industries?

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John M. Hairston, Hancock Whitney Corporation - President, CEO & Director [39]

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Sure. That's a good question. The -- we've said, in a few quarters in a row now, that our desire to enjoy better granularity in the book and therefore, better yield would make loan growth maybe not as much of a feature as had been in previous years because we're not necessarily growing uniquely corporate middle market business. Part of that reason was because we had a greater desire to fund business growth from business deposits versus personal deposits. The margin between those were just too skinny. And so as a result, where we're growing -- where we've been successful growing in the past year or so have been in the smaller end of commercial. And where the consumer book was formally shrinking, it is now growing again. And so over the course of time, and in the loan growth numbers that Mike has shared and when we talked about 2019, the expectation is that the portfolio loan growth may not be as large as it has been in some previous years. I think we used mid-single digits as a guide. What will be different is what makes it up.

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Brett D. Rabatin, Piper Jaffray Companies, Research Division - Senior Research Analyst [40]

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Okay. That's good color. And then just to go back to SNCs and just thinking about credit, you're focused on growing smaller loans. It's great to see the criticized loan totals be lower. Can you give us any color around just -- I think, you've got about $1.8 billion of SNCs. People are worried about leverage. Like can you go through like what might look like that in your portfolio? And just would you do any SNCs this year with -- some larger banks are talking about it being a bit of an opportunity given some of that market kind of going away.

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John M. Hairston, Hancock Whitney Corporation - President, CEO & Director [41]

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This is John. I'll start and Sam can add some color. Our SNC book has been relatively the same number for a couple of years now. And any activity we would have in shared national credits this year is more likely a shift in the mix of what's in it, leaning more to credits that have an opportunity for fee complement or some offset depository relationship versus shares of just very, very large credits where we're a very small part of it. So I don't see the SNC portfolio growing a great deal at all this year. I think it's more a matter of just mix change in the SNC book, just like we're having in the overall loan book as a whole. Sam, do you have anything to add to that?

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Samuel B. Kendricks, Hancock Whitney Corporation - Chief Credit Risk Officer & Executive VP [42]

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I would agree to that. It is not a driver of our overall growth. It's not our strategy to grow through SNCs. We will manage the portfolio as we see opportunities that meet our sort of strategic goals. But we pay very close attention to the -- both the banks we partner with and the clients, generally, that we are -- have either hedging dealings with or that we feel very confident in industries and the management teams that they operate.

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John M. Hairston, Hancock Whitney Corporation - President, CEO & Director [43]

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And this is John. Our confidence in that posture is born from the last year or 2 of being able to be successful growing other areas. And as long as that success continues, then our posture on SNCs will likely remain just what we just stated.

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Brett D. Rabatin, Piper Jaffray Companies, Research Division - Senior Research Analyst [44]

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Okay, I figured that might be the case. And then just to clean up there, what might count as leverage under your FDIC classification in the book?

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Michael M. Achary, Hancock Whitney Corporation - Senior EVP & CFO [45]

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I'm sorry. Would you restate the question?

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Brett D. Rabatin, Piper Jaffray Companies, Research Division - Senior Research Analyst [46]

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What might count -- yes, I'm sorry. Just what might count as leverage lending in the SNC book? Kind of what are the regulatory classifications, 6x or above EBITDA?

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Samuel B. Kendricks, Hancock Whitney Corporation - Chief Credit Risk Officer & Executive VP [47]

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I don't have that data handy with me right now. So you have to follow up. But I don't...

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John M. Hairston, Hancock Whitney Corporation - President, CEO & Director [48]

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So Brett, the total size of the SNC book in the fourth quarter was about $1.9 billion. About 25% of that was energy and the remaining 3/4 was nonenergy. And I don't think we've disclosed in any form that I can recall how much of that has been leveraged.

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Operator [49]

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And our next question is from the line of Jennifer Demba with SunTrust.

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Jennifer Haskew Demba, SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc., Research Division - MD [50]

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Question on CECL and your preparedness for that. When we might get some guidance as to what your provision and reserve could look like next year?

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Michael M. Achary, Hancock Whitney Corporation - Senior EVP & CFO [51]

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Jennifer, good morning, this is Mike. And like everyone else out there, we are hard at work on implementing CECL. And I think we're making great progress in that regard. We haven't reached the point where we're prepared to give any kind of color as to where we think potentially the one-time adjustment at year-end could come in at. Or how CECL could impact our provisioning on kind of a go forward basis. But certainly, I think that we would be in a position to begin commenting on that at some point in the second half of this year.

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Jennifer Haskew Demba, SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc., Research Division - MD [52]

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Okay. And second question is government shutdown. Any thoughts on the impacts of that as you see it in -- are you seeing any impact of that this month?

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John M. Hairston, Hancock Whitney Corporation - President, CEO & Director [53]

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Jennifer, this is John. Not really. We like most of our colleague organizations are doing all the right things to support those maybe without a pay roll right now. It's not a material impact either way. And since SBA credits have been a sizable portion of our growth story, the fact that some of those credits may be a little more difficult to get done right now has not really impacted us. So we certainly would like to see a resolution so we can get back to steady state simply because of all the uncertainty it causes. But it has not been a material impact to us really in anyway.

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Operator [54]

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And our next question comes from the line of Matt Olney of Stephens.

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Matthew Covington Olney, Stephens Inc., Research Division - MD [55]

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Wanted to go back to the credit discussion. And it sounds like you guys are pretty confident you're going to see continued improvements on your credit trends throughout 2019. I think you said you can approach peer levels at some point. Can you just add some more color as to what's driving that confidence that credit will continue to improve throughout 2019?

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Samuel B. Kendricks, Hancock Whitney Corporation - Chief Credit Risk Officer & Executive VP [56]

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Matt, this is Sam. As we come to our clients, we measure sort of the forward trajectory relative to their projections and their performance against projections. Generally folks are tracking pretty well. So we still have a forward outlook as we think about our criticized loans, classified loans. Just generally, sort of mapping out where we think things will hit. So at this point, we feel positive. Now that's absent any significant economic change, et cetera. But based on sort of the sound of economic data points that you see today, things are tracking along. So we continue to expect that general improvement. We also have some resolution plans on some problem loans that are continuing to work their way through the process. So at this point, we feel like that is a reasonable sort of expectation relative to our portfolio. We had some success along those lines during 2018. And what -- we'll continue to pursue those strategies that have worked for us thus far.

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John M. Hairston, Hancock Whitney Corporation - President, CEO & Director [57]

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And Matt, this is John. In slide 10 of the deck, there are trend lines that break out energy versus nonenergy. And the energy trends, as you see have been attractive to an improvement. But those percentages are still high relative to where our energy book typically is. And that's just the lingering effects of the cycle. And in particular, SNC ratings on upstream credits. And so I think as those -- we look for those to improve. We'll be disappointed if that didn't continue to improve. And then on the nonenergy side, we've had some improvement there that we expect to continue. So I think really our book is healing from all the different activities that occurred in the last several years. And we really would be disappointed if we didn't see that continue.

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Matthew Covington Olney, Stephens Inc., Research Division - MD [58]

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And then changing gears on to loan growth. I think in the prepared comments, you guys gave several descriptions and drivers of the strong loan growth in the fourth quarter. I think one of the things you mentioned was that there was some loans that were booked this quarter that weren't really in the pipeline earlier in October. Did I hear that right? Can you just kind of clarify the dynamic of what occurred in the fourth quarter that drove some loan growth that you didn't expect earlier in the quarter?

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John M. Hairston, Hancock Whitney Corporation - President, CEO & Director [59]

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Yes, that's correct. There were 2 primary causes of the outperformance. One was, there were credits and opportunities that we didn't see early in the quarter. And before we gave the 4Q guidance that occurred that we were able to win. And they were as a sizable chunk of CRE credits that just in the normal course of completing construction and those credits moving of the permanent markets didn't quite close in December as we expected. And those slipped into Q1. So all of that is built into the loan growth guidance for first quarter. Did that answer your question?

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Matthew Covington Olney, Stephens Inc., Research Division - MD [60]

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That helps. And then just lastly, I kind of appreciate the loan mix shift that you talked about on this call. And I think I appreciate the focus on the higher yielding loans. Can you talk about the, I guess, some of the lower yielding loans that you could potentially exit this year. I guess, you sold some lower yielding municipal loans in the fourth quarter. Could we see additional strategic exits like that this year? Or could we see some additional run-off of some lower yielding loans. Anything else notable on that side of exiting some of those credits?

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John M. Hairston, Hancock Whitney Corporation - President, CEO & Director [61]

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I'll give it a whirl, and then Mike may want to add some color. There -- I think you'll -- we'll continue see the public finance credit sector decline throughout the year. And that's not because we're afraid of the book. It just has very low yields. The indirect auto book will be paring down in volume simply because the value right now for 4 and 5 year money is just not as attractive as we think it, perhaps, will be later. And so what -- when the yield curve provides a little bit better shape. So indirect is likely to shrink. And then in mortgage, while it may grow a quarter. And maybe even in second quarter, about the time we roll over the second half of the year, just given the rate environment we expect the mortgage book to shrink as well. So areas that will offset that and become better would be the remainder of consumer mentioned earlier. And then on the smaller end of business and commercial banking. And the difference in the yields of those portfolios are remarkable.

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Michael M. Achary, Hancock Whitney Corporation - Senior EVP & CFO [62]

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And John, nothing to add to that. Matt, you asked about potential -- for additional sales or exits. There's nothing planned right now that we've identified. Certainly, we're cognizant when those kinds of opportunities arise. So certainly that's something that we continue to look at.

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Matthew Covington Olney, Stephens Inc., Research Division - MD [63]

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And that municipal loans that you sold last quarter, I think you said those yield about 2%. Is that relatively close to what the overall portfolio still yields today?

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John M. Hairston, Hancock Whitney Corporation - President, CEO & Director [64]

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In terms of the public finance book. Yes, it's a little bit north of that. So we sold the lower yielding loans that were in debt portfolio. And you're right, the 2% is what was the yield on what we sold.

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Operator [65]

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And our next question is from the line of Christopher Marinac of FIG Capital Partners.

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Christopher William Marinac, FIG Partners, LLC, Research Division - Director of Research [66]

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You had answered my credits question from Matt and Brad earlier, so thank you for that. Just wanted to follow up on the legacy of kind of Hancock's footprint on the Gulf Coast is. Would you depict it as being stronger or about the same as you look back the last 6 to 9 months?

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John M. Hairston, Hancock Whitney Corporation - President, CEO & Director [67]

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About Gulf Coast, do you mean Mississippi? Or you mean along the Panhandle and Alabama and et cetera?

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Christopher William Marinac, FIG Partners, LLC, Research Division - Director of Research [68]

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I guess, all of it, John. And I think the whole piece would be great.

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John M. Hairston, Hancock Whitney Corporation - President, CEO & Director [69]

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I think it's probably a little better than it was. When we put the banks together, if you remember back in the post-Katrina environment, the economic growth was still relatively slow. The focus was on rebuilding. And so there was lots of construction activity going on on those days. But it was much more difficult to recruit new employers to the region, because their memory of Katrina was so vivid. That appears to have diminished a great deal. And so really all along, the Gulf of Mexico and our footprint, we're seeing a better outlook for economic development. And the only damp spot or soft spot may be in the area where Marine services drives the economy in a small portion of Louisiana. But that even seems to have stabilized, and while it's certainly not growing impressively today, as the Gulf gets a little busier in perhaps in years in the future or due to diversification from the economic leadership of those communities, we would expect that not to lag as much it is now. So we're pretty warm to the economic development opportunities along the Gulf.

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Operator [70]

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This does conclude the question-and-answer session. I'd like to turn the conference back over to Mr. John Hairston for the closing remarks.

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John M. Hairston, Hancock Whitney Corporation - President, CEO & Director [71]

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Thanks, Amanda for handling the call. And thanks to every one for your interest in Hancock Whitney. Have a great day.

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Operator [72]

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Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your participation in today's conference. This does conclude the program. You may now disconnect. Everyone have a great day.