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What Makes First Financial Corporation (NASDAQ:THFF) A Hard Investment?

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Felix Olson
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As a small-cap finance stock with a market capitalisation of US$527m, the risk and profitability of First Financial Corporation (NASDAQ:THFF) are largely tied to the underlying economic growth of the region it operates in US. Given that banks operate by reinvesting deposits in the form of loans, negative economic growth may lower the level of saving deposits and demand for loans, directly affecting those banks’ levels of cash flows. Following the Financial Crisis in 2008, a set of reforms termed Basel III was enforced to bolster risk management, regulation, and supervision in the financial services industry. The Basel III reforms are aimed at banking regulations to improve financial institutions’ ability to absorb shocks caused by economic stress which could expose banks like First Financial to vulnerabilities. Its financial position may weaken in an adverse macro event such as political instability which is why it is crucial to understand how well the bank manages its risks. Low levels of leverage coupled with sufficient liquidity may place First Financial in a safe position in the face of adverse headwinds. We can measure this risk exposure by analysing three metrics for leverage and liquidity which I will take you through today.

See our latest analysis for First Financial

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NasdaqGS:THFF Historical Debt January 16th 19
NasdaqGS:THFF Historical Debt January 16th 19

Why Does THFF’s Leverage Matter?

A low level of leverage subjects a bank to less risk and enhances its ability to pay back its debtors. Leverage can be thought of as the amount of assets a bank owns relative to its shareholders’ funds. While financial companies will always have some leverage for a sufficient capital buffer, First Financial’s leverage ratio of less than the suitable maximum level of 20x, at 6.97x, is considered to be very cautious and prudent. With assets 6.97 times equity, the banks has maintained a prudent level of its own fund relative to borrowed fund which places it in a strong position to pay back its debt in times of adverse events. Should the bank need to increase its debt levels to meet capital requirements, it will have abundant headroom to do so.

What Is THFF’s Level of Liquidity?

Handing Money Transparent
Handing Money Transparent

As abovementioned, loans are quite illiquid so it is important to understand how much of these loans make up the bank’s total assets. Generally, they should make up less than 70% of total assets, which is the case for First Financial’s ratio at 64%. This is a reasonable ratio and suggests that slightly over half of the bank’s total assets are tied up in the form of illiquid loans, striking an appropriate balance between liquidity and interest income.

Does THFF Have Liquidity Mismatch?

THFF profits by lending out its customers’ deposits as loans and charge an interest on the principle. These loans tend to be fixed term which means they cannot be readily realized, yet customer deposits on the liability side must be paid on-demand and in short notice. The discrepancy between loan assets and deposit liabilities threatens the bank’s financial position. If an adverse event occurs, it may not be well-placed to repay its depositors immediately. Since First Financial’s loan to deposit ratio of 80% is within the sensible margin, below than the appropriate maximum of 90%, this level positions the bank cautiously in terms of liquidity as it has not disproportionately lent out its deposits and has retained an apt level of deposits.

Next Steps:

First Financial meets all of our liquidity and leverage criteria, exhibiting operational prudency. The operational risk side of a bank is an important fundamental often overlooked by investors. Its high liquidity and low leverage levels mean the bank is well-positioned to meet its financial obligations in the case of any adverse and unpredictable macro events. We’ve only touched on operational risks for THFF in this article. But as a stock investment, there are other fundamentals you need to understand. I’ve put together three key aspects you should further examine:

  1. Future Outlook: What are well-informed industry analysts predicting for THFF’s future growth? Take a look at our free research report of analyst consensus for THFF’s outlook.

  2. Valuation: What is THFF worth today? Has the future growth potential already been factored into the price? The intrinsic value infographic in our free research report helps visualize whether THFF is currently mispriced by the market.

  3. Other High-Performing Stocks: Are there other stocks that provide better prospects with proven track records? Explore our free list of these great stocks here.

To help readers see past the short term volatility of the financial market, we aim to bring you a long-term focused research analysis purely driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis does not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements.

The author is an independent contributor and at the time of publication had no position in the stocks mentioned. For errors that warrant correction please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com.