New York Community Bancorp (NYCB) may be lowering its M&A ambitions.

Chief Executive Joe Ficalora has long said he hopes to acquire a large company — $20 billion or more in assets — to vault New York Community well past the important $50 billion-asset threshold in the Dodd-Frank Act.

The additional regulatory costs that accompany status as a "systematically important" institution made smaller deals unappealing, he told American Banker in 2012.

But Ficalora seemed to reverse that position this week, calling a smaller deal a "definite possibility." With New York Community just $3 billion shy of the $50 billion threshold, it has already made many of the necessary investments to meet the higher bar set for banks of that size, he said.

"Whether we go over $50 billion by two [billion] or we go over $50 billion by $25 billion, it doesn't really matter," Ficalora said in a conference call Wednesday.

The Westbury, N.Y., company was once among the most active dealmakers in the industry, but its last sizable acquisition was the failed AmTrust in Cleveland in 2009.

Uncertainty among potential sellers was the main reason New York Community did not strike a deal last year, Ficalora said. Discussing the pitfalls to M&A, Chief Financial Officer Thomas Cangemi alluded to the deal between M&T Bank (MTB) and Hudson City Bancorp (HCBK), which is stuck in limbo after regulators ordered M&T to strengthen its internal controls.

"Jumping into a transaction and not being able to close the transaction is not where we want to be," Cangemi said.

New York Community's fourth-quarter results, released Wednesday, show a steady, efficient company that, nonetheless, is under pressure to boost earnings.

It reported a quarterly profit of $120.2 million, down 2% from the same period in 2012. The dip was largely due to a 61% drop in mortgage banking revenue, to $12.8 million, as refinance volume slowed. Its efficiency ratio remained strong, at 41.88%, two basis points higher than in the fourth quarter of 2012.

And while a deal remains likely, New York Community could end up passing the $50 billion mark through organic growth, Ficalora said.

Interest-earning assets increased 10%, to $40.8 billion, thanks largely to an increase in securities and other investments. The company's book of loans held for investment grew 9%, to $29.8 billion. And it is winning market share in its lending niche, the New York City multifamily market, Ficalora said.

"We're doing a lot of work to be ready to be over 50 [billion] because even without a deal, we could cross over 50 [billion] the not-too-distant future," Ficalora said.

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