Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Fintech Buys Bank. Keeps Stratospheric Valuation.

Imagine a fintech, with off-the-chart valuations such as 2.6x book value and 51x EBITDA, buying a bank. For 1.85x book. 

In today's M&A valuations, 1.85x is pretty lofty. Especially for a community bank. But you don't have to imagine it. Because that was what LendingClub paid for Radius Bank. Since the deal closed, LendingClub has kept its valuations. In fact, since February 17, 2020, one day prior to the Radius Bank deal announcement, LC's share price has risen 58% versus the S&P BMI Software & Services Index increase of 20% (see chart). 

LendingClub bought a bank and didn't trade down to traditional bank valuations. Their valuation grew loftier. Making for even better currency to buy even more banks. And putting them at a strategic advantage over other would-be financial institution buyers mired in the lowly yet more rational bank stock valuations. Truth be told, LC paid mostly cash in the deal. What's cash worth these days? And there are plenty of examples of investors throwing barrelfuls of cash to technology firms.

This is a clear threat to financial institutions. How can we overcome such a hurdle? I wrote that one primary reason banks need scale is to enjoy greater trading multiples. It was one of my most read posts and is a chapter in my upcoming book, Squared Away (soon to be available in your favorite bookstore). 

But we can't pay 2x book for a target when our stock is trading at 1.2x book. Even if we enjoy higher bank-like trading multiples because of scale we may get to 1.5x. Green Dot Corporation is currently trading at 2.6x book and over 6x tangible book. They can easily afford 2x book with that valuation. With more experience acquiring banks in the rearview mirror, fintech's who might have once been worried about bank valuations weighing them down, will be more confident to bid on for-sale banks, to be aggressive, to get deals done. 

Having said that, net interest income is a very small part of  LendingClub's revenue mix, at 22% for 2020, which was prior to the close of the Radius Bank transaction. And they're in the business of lending! Green Dot Corporation showed less than 2% revenue attributed to net interest income. So the continued lofty valuation might be relating to the relative size of the bank within the fintech. 

We were worried that credit unions would be buying banks. Using their ample cash positions, which aren't earning much in the investment portfolio or at other financial institutions, and turning taxable earnings from target banks into non-taxable earnings at credit unions.

What about fintechs that may not be too concerned about profit? I reviewed LendingClub's last five years and see nothing but red ink. Radius Bank had net income of $6.7 million in 2020. On a consolidated basis with the currently bleeding LendingClub, that might revert to tax-free money. Just what we feared with credit unions. 

Should we be worried about more fintechs stepping up to buy banks? (Ref: SoFi and Golden Pacific Bancorp) 

Will these precedents be part of a trend?

~ Jeff

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