Queens County Bancorp is winning rave reviews from analysts thanks to its strong management and a pending merger that is expected to boost earnings by 25%.
Shares of the New York thrift gained 23.3% last month, and the consensus rating on the stock jumped over the past four weeks from 2.0, or "accumulate," to 1.6, or "buy," on First Call/Thomson's scale of 1 to 5. The move was the biggest of any stock tracked by American Banker. The thrift announced last month that it would buy Haven Bancorp for $196 million. Queens County plans to move its headquarters to Westbury, N.Y., where Haven is based, and adopt the name New York Community Bancorp. The deal is pending regulatory approval. Shares of Queens County rose 37.5 cents Monday, or 1.65% to $23.125.
Analyst agreed that Queens County, which would more than double its assets to $5.1 billion with the proposed merger, is well managed, and most expect its stock price to rise further this year.
Credit quality, a concern among investors lately, is in excellent shape at Queens County. On July 12 it reported its 23d consecutive quarter without net chargeoffs. Nonperforming loans represented only 0.17% of loans, down from 0.19% at the end of last year. Nonperforming assets represented 0.15% of total assets, off from 0.16%.
"Credit quality has never been a problem with Queens County Bancorp, not even in the 1980s," said Salvatore DiMartino, an analyst at Advest Inc. "This will continue to be the case even after the merger with Haven."
Mr. DiMartino, who had lowered his rating last year from "strong buy" to "buy" because of general concerns about financial institutions, restored it to "strong buy" last week, because he believes the merger will improve its performance. He also noted that Queens County has allocated $12.7 million to repurchase 597,162 of its shares.
James Ackor, an analyst at Tucker Anthony Cleary Gull, lifted his rating from "hold" to "accumulate" just after Queens County reported earnings, and then to "strong buy" last week in anticipation of the merger, which he said would increase the value of both institutions.
Mr. Ackor, who called Queens County "the top performing thrift in the country," said that he expects the combined firms' earnings per share would increase 4.43% in the third quarter, to $2.60. He also said the new company would be a potential acquisition target "at some time," depending on how well the Queens County-Haven merger is executed.
Heather Rosenkoetter of Friedman Billings Ramsey & Co. said the merger with Haven would help Queens County raise funds to meet its loan demand. Nevertheless, she said she is keeping her rating at a second-grade "accumulate," because the shares are getting pricey, particularly in comparison to its peers on Long Island.
She said she would buy the shares at $20. Mr. DiMartino and Mr. Ackor are projecting a share price of $30.