Union Planters Corp. expects to sell or consolidate about 15% of its branch network in the restructuring it unveiled this summer.
The usually reticent Memphis banking company revealed the branch plans Wednesday during a midquarter investor conference call about the reorganization plan. Executives at the $35 billion-asset company say they hope the restructuring will generate a total of between $85 million and $100 million in cost savings and revenue increases.
During the conference call, Union Planters chief financial officer Bobby L. Doxey said that it would sell 70 branches and consolidate another 55. The branches involved hold less than 5% of its total deposits, he said.
The company did not specify which of its branches would be sold or closed, but Mr. Doxey said Union Planters is looking to refocus its resources on those branches in strong growth markets, and in regions where it has a significant presence.
As a result of the restructuring, Union Planters expects to earn between $3.82 and $3.90 per share next year and between $4.42 and $4.38 in 2003. It expects to see the full impact of the program by the first quarter of 2003, Mr. Doxey said.
Jackson W. Moore, Union Planters' chairman, president, and chief executive officer, said during the conference call that the company would likely take some small charges connected to the restructuring over the next couple of quarters. In June, Mr. Moore succeeded Benjamin W. Rawlins, who died last September, as the head of the company.
The reorganization program, dubbed UPExcel, is designed to trim 10 years of fat accumulated through 60 acquisitions. Union Planters is not the only company looking to cut back after years of acquisitions. Some others that have pruned their operations include First Union Corp., Bank of America Corp., and Bank One Corp.
Union Planters executives say that the program is designed to improve the company's efficiency, enhance customer service, and identify new sources of revenue growth.
Though the restructuring is expected to take about 18 months, executives said it has already produced some benefits. The second quarter was the sixth consecutive one in which Union Planters' operating earnings either rose or stayed the same from the previous quarter, the executives said.
The company says its annual earnings will rise between $25 million to $30 million as a result of revenue enhancement efforts, such as increased monitoring of fee waivers and discounts. Productivity enhancements should save the company between $40 and 45 million each year, Union Planters said.
Analysts on Wednesday said they welcomed the financial details of the restructuring plan, and said they were surprised by the benefits the company projected.
"They're doing it the right way," said Jefferson Harralson, an analyst at SunTrust Banks Inc.'s Robinson-Humphrey Co. Union Planters is developing its core business lines and avoiding a major restructuring charge, he said. "To me, this plan sounds like a low-risk proposition."
David Trone, an analyst at Prudential Securities, said the company's new management team "is increasingly gaining my confidence, and I think the Street's confidence," but he still rates the stock a "hold." Though Union Planters is establishing earnings consistency, its revenue growth potential is limited because many of the branches are in slow growth markets, he said.
However, he speculated that some of branch sales would include some of its more outlying locations.
Mr. Harralson said he was not sure whether Union Planters' restructuring would help or hurt its ability to fend off a hostile buyout bid. The company has been tipped as a likely takeover target in the past.
With the type of per-share earnings boost management is projecting, "it makes them more attractive to shareholders as an independent company," Mr. Harralson said.
And if Union Planters achieves its goals, it would increase its dividend yield, currently at 4.5%, by 2003, which would make it more attractive to investors, he added. The company's peer group currently issues an average dividend of around 2.7%.