Commercial Federal Corp. of Omaha disappointed analysts again Thursday when its fourth-quarter earnings failed to meet Wall Street expectations.
The company, which has been urged by investors to make management changes or put itself on the block, reported a loss of $47.7 million during the quarter, compared with net income of $28.8 million during the same period in 1999. It was the ninth consecutive quarter in which the $12.5 billion-asset company failed to meet expectations. Still, Commercial Federal shares have been steadily rising as the company worked on a turnaround.
Its stock price fell 0.5% Thursday, to $22.53, and it has risen 35% since the end of November.
Bank officials blamed a major restructuring of the companys balance sheet for the fourth-quarter loss.
Twelve months ago we started a restructuring period, chief executive officer William A. Fitzgerald told investors in a conference call. This is a good period to have behind us.
The company deflated its balance sheet by nearly $3 billion, selling $1.6 billion of mortgages and $1.2 billion of securities. It used the proceeds to buy lower-risk, higher-yielding securities and to pay off debt.
An increase in the loan-loss provision and higher exit costs and termination fees were surprising, said Joseph Roberto, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc.
The quarter was very messy, Mr. Roberto said. They did not hit our expectations. They are not communicating well with Wall Street.
He said that Commercial Federal, which has its eyes on 2001, had written off the fourth quarter.
It has predicted earnings of $1.78 per share this year.
They have set the stage for 2001 and beyond, Mr. Roberto said. They indicated comfort for earnings expectations in 2001 but we have heard this before.
Mr. Fitzgerald promised better results for investors because the company is positioned financially and operationally to resume earnings growth. We are confident in Commercial Federals course and in its ability to generate sustainable earnings per share growth.
The company outlined several plans for 2001, including the consolidation of 12 bank branches in the first quarter as part of a previously announced divestiture initiative. Commercial Federal has received bids for the 37 bank branches it is selling and expects to close the deal during the second or third quarter, it said.
During the fourth quarter the company reduced its work force by 6.7%, with most of the cuts in middle management, and it repurchased 1.5 million shares of common stock. It also reevaluated the credit risk remaining from acquisitions, said chief financial officer David Fisher.
We ended 2000 in the favorable position we were targeting, he said. Our balance sheet is stronger, as we decreased lower-yielding assets, and we have plans to exit the lower-growth markets.
Mr. Fisher told investors that we must execute our plan for 2001. The losses are behind us. The benefits are ahead of us.