More banks have already gone public this year than last year, and pressures like survival abound for others to follow their lead.
But a close look at the performances of those initial public offerings suggests that urgent need and a few high fliers does not guarantee success for everyone else.
So far five banks have gone public this year compared with four in 2013. Overall, there is "investor demand for good IPO stories," says Dory Wiley, president and chief executive of Commerce Street Holdings.
Industry observers and some bankers continue to argue that institutions need to get larger in order to gain efficiencies as regulatory costs rise and loan demand remains tepid. Banks looking to gain scale either through acquisitions or organic growth see becoming a public company as a way to help achieve this.
"The banks that have done an IPO over the last two years was less of their shareholders wanting liquidity and more wanting a currency to be an active acquirer," says R. Lee Burrows Jr., the CEO at Banks Street Partners. "Discussions for an acquisition usually break down because the currency being offered is illiquid."
Some IPO results have been better than others.
The stock prices for the banks that went public in 2013 have soared the median price for the stock at those four banks is up more than 50%, according to data from KBW.
Yet the median trading value of the five banks that have gone public this year has remained roughly flat.
Overall bank stock prices had a strong year in 2013 when the market was still recovering from the financial crisis, says Rick Maples, co-head of investment banking at KBW. That has changed this year as bank stocks have started to slide, and it is reflected in the stock prices for banks that recently went public.
The good news for the 2014 IPOs is that those banks were able to complete their IPOs at higher multiples than the banks last year, Maples adds.
The appetite for bank IPOs remains, but there are caveats.
Yes, investors are eager to stake a claim in community banks because the economic environment has improved, Maples says. M&A activity is also starting to pick up, which is enticing to investors, he adds. Private-equity firms that invested more than five years ago may also be looking for an exit, driving some IPOs, says Curt Hidde, a partner at Barnes & Thornburg.
However, investors are looking for specific types of deals and there are still some doubts left over from the financial crisis in certain areas like Georgia, Wiley says. Investors are drawn to banks that are in high-growth markets, such as California, or ones that have developed a niche, such as Square 1 Financial (SQBK), which went public in March and specializes in doing business with high-tech startups, Maples says.
Texas in particular is drawing a lot of attention after Independent Bank Group (IBTX) raised $96 million in an IPO last year and then went on to complete three acquisitions. Its stock is now trading roughly 80% higher than its initial pricing. There are roughly 70 public banks in Texas with strong stock prices, giving them a currency to buy smaller institutions that are looking to sell after struggling with regulatory costs and lack of scale, Wiley says.
"More than most states, Texas has a growth market," Maples says. "It didn't suffer the downturn that other states went through, and you have a number of banks that were founded in the last 10 years that have reached a critical mass so they can go public."
Generally a bank needs to have solid management, be located in a strong growth market and have expansion plans in order to draw investor interest, Wiley says.
"What is your competitive advantage?" Wiley asks. "How are you organically growing the bank? Do you have a competitive cost of funds? Can you grow without chasing credit? Investors are asking these hard questions so they aren't just throwing money out there."
Community banks are deciding to go public because they want to grow and often acquire other banks, experts say. Having a publicly traded stock can be an advantage in negotiations over just a straight cash offer. It will be predominantly larger acquisitive institutions, some with private-equity backing, that will go public, Burrows says.
Bankwell Financial Group (BWFG) in New Canaan, Conn., recently raised almost $49 million after completing its IPO on May 14. The $812 million-asset company needed capital to support its organic growth and acquisition strategy, President and Chief Executive Peyton Patterson says. Its loans and deposits have been growing at a 25% to 30% rate on an annual basis, and the company completed one acquisition last year and has another deal in the works.
The IPO gives Bankwell "dry powder to fuel that growth," Patterson says. "Potential investors will dig deep into your core earnings and identify how strong your net interest margin is and how the bank is positioning itself for rising rates. That will be critical."
There could also be some pent-up demand for banks looking to do an IPO that put off the offering until the economy improved and the financial crisis passed, Hidde says. ServisFirst Bancshares (SFBS) in Birmingham, Ala., which went public May 13 waited to do its IPO until conditions improved, says President and CEO Tom Broughton. The $3.5 billion-asset ServisFirst plans to use the capital for organic growth, though the company might consider an acquisition if it was the right fit.
"I didn't want to sell stock at a low price during the recession," he adds. "We really have felt smooth sailing for the last few years. It's been difficult to predict."
That's true enough. ServisFirst's shares opened at $91 and fell to around $80 within a week. Its shares were back up to about $86 on Friday afternoon. However, its stock price was about 223% of book value, which is "still a nice premium," Burrows says.