United Community Banks, Inc. (NASDAQ: UCBI) (“United”) today announced its fourth quarter financial results, including strong year-over-year loan and deposit growth, operating efficiency and asset quality. Diluted earnings per share were $0.61, an increase of $0.05 or 9% from a year ago. Excluding a nominal amount of merger-related and other charges, diluted operating earnings per share were also $0.61, up 7% over last year. United’s return on assets was 1.50% and its return on common equity was 12.1% for the quarter. On an operating basis, United’s return on assets was also 1.50% and its return on tangible common equity was 15.5%.
During the quarter, the company sold its remaining investment in its indirect auto portfolio, completing its exit from that business. Excluding indirect auto, loans grew at a 2% annualized rate in the fourth quarter. United's net interest margin decreased as expected due to falling interest rates. Other items that impacted the net interest margin included seasonally higher average public deposits invested at lower yielding overnight rates and lower purchased loan accretion when compared to previous quarters. Core transaction deposits remained stable and total deposits grew by $140 million.
For the full year of 2019, United's return on assets increased 11 basis points to 1.46% and EPS increased by 12%. Operating return on assets increased 11 basis points to 1.51% and operating EPS increased 11%, as the company continued to execute on its plans to deliver top quartile performance. 2019 saw strong operating leverage, resulting in a company best efficiency ratio of 55.8% and an operating efficiency ratio of 54.5%.
“Our fourth quarter caps off what has been an outstanding year for United. Our team continued delivering best in class customer service, which has led to the achievement of our top quartile performance goals,” said Lynn Harton, Chairman and CEO of United. “We are proud and honored that United was named one of the 'Best Banks to Work For' by American Banker for the third year in a row, as well as one of the 'World’s Best Banks in 2019' by Forbes. These accolades are totally due to the passion and caring of our 2,341 employees and their efforts to build a great company where they can develop fulfilling careers, reach ambitious financial goals and serve United's customers and communities at the highest level. We look forward to continued success in 2020.”
• 2019 earnings per diluted share were $2.31, a 12% increase over 2018
Excluding merger-related and other charges, operating earnings per diluted share for 2019 were $2.38 compared to $2.14 in 2018, an increase of 11%
• Return on assets was 1.46% in 2019, an increase of 11 basis points from 2018
Excluding merger-related and other charges, operating return on assets was 1.51%, an increase of 11 basis points from 2018
• Efficiency ratio of 55.8% in 2019 improved 154 basis points as compared to 2018
Excluding merger-related and other charges, efficiency ratio of 54.5% improved 144 basis points as compared to 2018
• End of period loans grew $430 million in 2019, up 5% over December 31, 2018
• Common Equity Tier 1 ratio was 13.0% at December 31, 2019, compared to 12.2% at December 31, 2018
• Dividends of $0.68 per share were declared in 2019, up 17% over 2018
• United completed the acquisition of First Madison Bank & Trust on May 1, 2019
• Share repurchases of 500,495 shares were accomplished during the year at an average price of $26.01
Fourth Quarter 2019 Financial Highlights:
• EPS of $0.61, representing growth of 9% over last year, or 7% on an operating basis
• Return on assets of 1.50%
• Return on common equity of 12.1%
• Operating return on tangible common equity of 15.5%, excluding merger-related and other charges
• End of period total loans fell by $90 million, but excluding indirect auto, end of period loans grew at a 2% annualized pace
• Loan production was strong at $854 million, but was offset by higher than usual paydowns
• Despite weaker seasonality, our mortgage business remained strong with loan locks of $411 million, compared to $251 million a year ago due to a favorable rate environment and the impact of new hires
• Net interest margin of 3.93% was down 19 basis points compared to the third quarter and down 4 basis points compared to a year ago
• Efficiency ratio of 54.9%
• Net charge-offs of 18 basis points, up six basis points from last quarter and remaining at historically low levels
• Nonperforming assets of 0.28% of total assets, compared with 0.24% at September 30, 2019 and 0.20% at December 31, 2018
• Unusual items in the quarter netted to a slight gain, with a $1.6 million bank owned life insurance gain offset by $0.9 million in securities losses. Additionally, our indirect portfolio sales resulted in a $0.7 million loss offset by a $0.5 million indirect portfolio loan loss reserve release
United will hold a conference call, Wednesday, January 22, 2020, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the contents of this press release and to share business highlights for the quarter. To access the call, dial (877) 380-5665 and use the conference number 7081477. The conference call also will be webcast and available for replay for 30 days by selecting “Events & Presentations” within the Investor Relations section of United’s website at www.ucbi.com.
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