Still heady over the deal it announced last week to swoop into Pennsylvania by buying 57 branches, First Niagara Financial Group Inc. is talking even more boldly now.
In announcing first-quarter earnings that pleased analysts Monday, the $9.6 billion-asset Lockport, N.Y., company also said it would sell $300 million of stock — not only to support its growth, but also to repay the government capital it took in the fall.
"Our position in the industry puts us in the right spot at the right time to bolster our capital coffers," John Koelmel, First Niagara's president and chief executive officer, said on a conference call.
The plan to exit the Treasury Department's Troubled Asset Relief Program shows a sharp change in attitude at First Niagara, which had been happy to take $184 million at the request of regulators.
Koelmel, who has defended the program in the past, would not discuss the plan to raise capital or the decision to repay Tarp money on the call. A spokeswoman for the company later cited a quiet period.
Analysts said they expect First Niagara to succeed in attracting investors. They cited its still-strong credit quality and potential earnings growth following its deal to buy 57 former National City Corp. branches from PNC Financial Services Group Inc.
"If they can go out on the open market and raise $300 million, it makes Tarp superfluous," said Thomas Alonso, an analyst at Fox-Pitt Kelton Cochran Coronia Waller. "They don't need it anymore."
Several analysts noted that First Niagara managed to raise $115 million on its own in an arguably more challenging environment last fall, before it took the Tarp money. At that time Koelmel called his company "supercapitalized" and spoke openly about searching for acquisitions in neighboring states.
Alonso said First Niagara most likely never envisioned a branch deal as large as this one, and now it needs to replenish its capital to expand even further.
Analysts said the stock offering implies that First Niagara is unlikely to exercise its option to sell up to $150 million of debt and equity to PNC when the deal closes in September. Alonso said that would be a positive development, since it would make more sense for First Niagara to use the open market than to sell its stock to PNC, a company that would be its largest competitor in western Pennsylvania. (Last week Koelmel described the highly unusual financing option with PNC as "an insurance policy" for First Niagara.)
First Niagara's first-quarter earnings were essentially flat compared with a year earlier, at $18.7 million. But analysts called the results solid. Though credit quality slipped from the fourth quarter, "it's nothing of the magnitude we've seen elsewhere in the industry," said Tony Davis at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. Inc.