Synovus' first-quarter profit rises to $45.9 million

tadams@ledger-enquirer.comApril 22, 2014 

The Synovus building sits along the Chattahoochee River.

PHOTO BY MIKE HASKEY — mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

Regional bank Synovus Financial Corp., parent company of Columbus Bank and Trust, reported a profit Tuesday of $45.9 million, or 5 cents per share, in the first quarter.

For Columbus-based Synovus, that was better than the $14.8 million in net income, or 2 cents per share, that it posted a year ago in the same January-March period. It also was up from $35.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2013.

The fourth-largest bank in Georgia said total loans rose by $101 million from the fourth quarter, while credit costs came in at $17.6 million, down from $49.3 million in the same period a year ago.

Kessel Stelling, Synovus chairman and chief executive officer, noted the 28 percent increase in net income for the first quarter, while also pointing out progress is being made in key large markets. Those include Atlanta, Charleston, S.C., and the Florida cities of Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville. Most of those markets were hard-hit in the housing market crisis that helped spark the Great Recession.

“Our steady progress over the past several quarters is a direct result of investments in additional talent in high-opportunity markets, effective partnerships between our core and specialty line bankers, and our team’s unwavering commitment to delivering exceptional customer service,” he said. “The quarter also included continued reductions in credit costs, a slight increase in the net interest margin, and the implementation of new expense reduction initiatives.”

Wall Street analysts surveyed by research firm Thomson Financial had projected Synovus would earn 5 cents per share in the first quarter. They also, for the moment, anticipate the banking firm will register a profit of 20 cents per share for all of 2014. Although it’s still way too early to forecast, they see the company earning 22 cents per share in 2015.

Synovus operates individually branded banks in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee. Combined, those banks oversee more than $26 billion in assets, with 274 branches and 358 automated teller machines (ATMs). Locally, aside from Columbus Bank and Trust, it operates CB&T of East Alabama in Phenix City.

Earnings reports are loaded with financial numbers. Of note, Synovus reported net-interest income of $200.5 million in the first quarter, up slightly from $199.8 million in the same period a year ago. After a $9.5 million provision for loan losses in the current quarter, net-interest income was $191 million.

Total non-interest income came in at just over $70 million, up more than 8 percent from $64.7 million a year ago. Non-interest income includes revenue from service charges on deposits, credit-card fees, and mortgage and investment fees. The current quarter also included a $5.8 million gain from the sale by Synovus of its Trust One Bank in Memphis, Tenn., to IberiaBank.

Meanwhile, total non-interest expense was just over $184 million in the quarter, up from $182.2 million. That included $8.6 million in restructuring charges.

Synovus had been beleaguered by loan losses for three long years before becoming profitable again in the fall of 2012. Some of its losses were tied to the housing market meltdown, while others were connected to commercial transactions, such as that to Sea Island Co., a resort community on the Georgia coast that went into default and ultimately was sold to private investors.

In the first quarter, Synovus indicated it continues to grapple with loan losses, although improvement has been made. The bank reported net charge-offs of $15.2 million, down from $42.1 million in the same period a year ago. Non-performing loans — minus those loans it is holding for sale — were nearly $385 million, down from more than $513 million a year ago. Non-performing loan inflows were $35 million, improved from nearly $84 million a year ago.

It’s been a long road back from the financial precipice for Synovus, which has restructured itself into a smaller company, closing some branches and reducing its work force from about 7,400 employees to just under 5,000 since 2008. It repaid the $968 million it owed the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, last July. It all has occurred amid shareholder lawsuits and speculation the bank might be bought out at any time.

Despite the overall job restructuring, Stelling repeatedly has said the company will invest in talent where it sees opportunity and growth. The outlay also will include equipment, with the CEO on Tuesday saying Synovus will complete its rollout of 200 full-service ATMs this summer, an upgrade the company sorely needed to make. A brand-awareness campaign also has been launched in various markets, he said.

“During the remainder of 2014, we expect continued loan growth, further improvement in credit quality, and a continued push on expense reductions. We are making strategic investments to improve our customers’ experience and more effectively reach potential customers,” Stelling said. “... All of these activities, along with our strong capital position, provide a solid foundation for long-term growth and success.”

Synovus shares rose 6 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $3.32 in trading Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock's 52-week trading range is $2.48 to $3.79 per share.

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