CIT Hires Consultant to Help Speed Up Turnaround

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Managing the turnaround of a regional bank with a long list of divergent business lines can amount to a game of whack-a-mole.

That's the case at CIT Group in Livingston, N.J., which said Tuesday that it has hired Boston Consulting Group to explore ways to improve performance.

CIT already had a turnaround plan in place. The company earlier this year set a goal achieving a 10% return on average tangible common equity by 2018, through a mix of cost cuts and asset sales. It met a key part of that plan earlier this month, when it announced the sale its $11 billion-asset aircraft leasing unit.

But the aircraft deal is projected leave CIT awash in excess capital — and unlikely to meet its profitability target. So the company is looking for new ways to get there, this time with the help of outside consultants.

"We view that as a high-quality problem," said Arren Cyganovich, an analyst at D.A. Davidson. "It doesn't mean that you can't get to that 10% [target] over time."

The company's return on tangible common equity stood at 7.5% in the third quarter, adjusted for goodwill impairment and other accounting factors. A year earlier that figure was 2.6%.

Cyganovich said CIT may need to return capital faster, given that it has already announced steep round of cost cuts, that included cutting management-level positions and automating back-office processes. Taking into account the aircraft sale, he said in a research note Monday that company will likely fall well short of its 2018 target without meaningfully deploying its capital.

During a quarterly call Tuesday, Ellen Alemany, the chairman and chief executive of the $66 billion-asset company, provided few details about the strategic review.

"We are leaving no stone unturned in the company," Alemany said, adding that the company expects to announce the results shortly. Asked whether the strategic review would focus on asset growth, revenue opportunities or efficiency initiatives, she said: "It's really all of the above."

Several of CIT's peers have announced similar strategic reviews this year. In April, the $73 billion-asset Comerica in Dallas also hired Boston Consulting Group to improve performance, and has since announced steep cost-cutting measures.

Notably, both companies have faced pressure from Hudson Executive Capital, the activist hedge fund.

Alemany took the helm in April, succeeding John Thain. The leadership shakeup, announced last October, came as the company faced challenges on a number of different fronts, including plunging profitability.

Since taking the helm, Alemany has announced plans to slash expenses by $125 million over three years, and struck deals to divest the aircraft unit and several international businesses.

CIT on Oct. 6 announced a plan to sell its aircraft business to HNA Group in China. In conjunction with the deal, CIT received regulatory approval to return $3.3 billion of capital to shareholders and repay $6 billion of unsecured debt.

"Knowing which way air is going, we are going to update our plan," Alemany said on the call Tuesday.

Overall, CIT reported solid results for the third quarter, excluding the impact of a one-time tax benefit recorded in the prior year.

Excluding the accounting benefit, income from continuing operations rose 65%, to $225 million. Diluted earnings per share were 73 cents, or 6 cents lower than an estimate of analysts polled by Bloomberg.

Profits were buoyed by higher net income in the company's community banking and commercial lending divisions. Revenue from transportation finance — which includes rail and maritime leasing — continued to decline, amid ongoing pressures in commodities markets.

Additionally, Alemany said during the call that CIT has seen "very good growth" in its online lending business. The company provides small-business financing through LendEdge, an online loan platform that it acquired in 2014.

"We're benefiting right now from some of the challenges that the other online lenders have," Alemany said. She did not provide additional details.

Overall, net interest income rose 34%, to $211 million, due in part to gains from its acquisition of OneWest Bank August 2015. Total loans, however, fell 5%, to $30 billion, because of the sale of certain commercial financing assets.

The net finance margin compressed 4 basis points, to 3.63%.

Fee-based revenue climbed 10%, to $638 million, boosted by gains on portfolio sales.

Noninterest expenses rose 5%, to $577 million, mostly from higher depreciation on lease equipment. Operating costs held steady.

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