As a small-cap finance stock with a market capitalisation of US$4.0b, the risk and profitability of First Financial Bankshares, Inc. (NASDAQ:FFIN) are largely tied to the underlying economic growth of the region it operates in US. Since banks make money by reinvesting its customers’ deposits in the form of loans, strong economic growth will drive the level of savings deposits and demand for loans, directly impacting the cash flows of those banks. After the GFC, a set of reforms called Basel III was imposed in order to strengthen regulation, supervision and risk management in the banking sector. These reforms target banking regulations and intends to enhance financial institutions’ ability to absorb shocks resulting from economic stress which could expose banks like First Financial Bankshares to vulnerabilities. Since its financial standing can unexpectedly decline in the case of an adverse macro event such as political instability, it is important to understand how prudent the bank is at managing its risk levels. Low levels of leverage coupled with sufficient liquidity may place First Financial Bankshares 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.
Why Does FFIN’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. Financial institutions are required to have a certain level of buffer to meet capital adequacy levels. First Financial Bankshares’s leverage level of 7.6x is very safe and substantially below the maximum limit of 20x. This means the bank has a sensibly high level of equity compared to the level of debt it has taken on to maintain operations which places it in a strong position to pay back its debt in unforeseen circumstances. If the bank needs to firm up its capital cushion, it has ample headroom to increase its debt level without deteriorating its financial position.
How Should We Measure FFIN’s Liquidity?
As abovementioned, loans are quite illiquid so it is important to understand how much of these loans make up the bank’s total assets. Normally, they should not exceed 70% of total assets, consistent with First Financial Bankshares’s case with a ratio of 50%. At this level of loan, the bank has preserved a sensible level between maintaining liquidity and generating interest income from the loan.
Does FFIN Have Liquidity Mismatch?
Banks operate by lending out its customers’ deposits as loans and charge a higher interest rate. These loans tend to be fixed term which means they cannot be readily realized, conversely, on the liability side, customer deposits must be paid in very short notice and on-demand. The disparity between the immediacy of deposits compared to the illiquid nature of loans puts pressure on the bank’s financial position if an adverse event requires the bank to repay its depositors. Relative to the prudent industry loan to deposit level of 90%, First Financial Bankshares’s ratio of over 62% is markedly lower, which means the bank is lending out less than its total level of deposits and 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. Given the large headroom for growth in loans, the bank has opportunity to grow its interest income.
First Financial Bankshares 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. High liquidity and low leverage places the bank in an ideal position to repay financial liabilities in case of adverse headwinds. Keep in mind that a stock investment requires research on more than just its operational side. There are three essential aspects you should look at:
- Future Outlook: What are well-informed industry analysts predicting for FFIN’s future growth? Take a look at our free research report of analyst consensus for FFIN’s outlook.
- Valuation: What is FFIN 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 FFIN is currently mispriced by the market.
- 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.
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