Portfolio Management

Build your balance sheet to suit customers and regulators.

By Jim Reber and Katharine Bray

With all the advances in logistics that have improved management in varied industries such as retail, transportation, and manufacturing, it should come as no surprise to you, the community banker, that there is now the ability to create a just-in-time inventory control item for your own warehouse/balance sheet. But just in case you haven’t heard, or haven’t heard lately, let us explain.

Community banks have been chronically short of floating-rate assets, or long-term deposits, or both. This is a condition that (of course) is customer driven. Speaking from the standpoint of a consumer, we logically prefer to lock in the cost of our own borrowings but don’t want to be committed to tying up our savings. In our minds, it’s simply risk aversion. One person’s aversion, however, is another’s exposure.

In response to these market-imposed rate risk liabilities, community banks have gradually educated themselves about how to respond. Examiners have refined their standards of measure for interest-rate risk management and introduced beloved new acronyms such as EAR, EVE and CAR. And increasingly, ICBA members are using financial products that lessen their exposures to interest-rate shocks, improve their community banks’ profitability, or both.

Webinar series continues

ICBA Securities will present the second part of its popular Community Bank Matters webinar series on April 18. Greg Roll of Vining Sparks will present “Portfolio Strategies for an Evolving Market.” One hour of CPE credit is available. To register, visit icbasecurities.com

Lend and swap
We can review a recent loan transaction as an example. A $300 million-asset community bank in the Midwest had an opportunity to make a $1.5 million fixed-rate loan to a creditworthy customer. The problem was that the bank’s lending grid limited it to a five-year adjustable-rate loan, and the borrower wanted a 10-year fixed term. And the borrower had other lenders willing to approve that term.

Happily for the bank, it had an ace up its sleeve. It had developed a loan-hedging program in 2015 that allowed it to make a fixed-rate loan and simultaneously execute an interest-rate swap to effectively make it a true floater. This had the dual effect of retaining the customer’s business and competing with larger institutions while mitigating rate risk on the bank’s own balance sheet.

The customer ended up with a 4.85 percent rate on a 10-year balloon date with a 20-year amortization period, which was very competitive in its market. The bank is earning 1-month LIBOR plus 245 basis points (2.45 percent) on an asset that potentially adjusts every 30 days. As of this writing, that translates into a yield of 3.25 percent. Better still is that the bank was able to book a $23,000 upfront fee on the hedge.

Lock in your costs
Many community banks have had their liabilities on autopilot for the better part of a decade. Deposits have been cheap, plentiful, and relatively sticky. We’ll see how that plays out as the Fed continues to consider rate increases. Still, deposit gathering has begun to occupy the thoughts of community bank balance-sheet managers.

This, fortunately, is the residue of increased loan demand. What most community banks prefer in a time deposit or a Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB) advance is a longer-term fixed rate. Unfortunately, they can be prohibitively expensive.

Community bankers have learned a way to extend their liability durations at levels that are still attractive, even though the interest-rate curve has steepened in the last 120 days. They simply construct the corollary to the loan strategy explained above: Borrow floating, and execute an interest-rate swap to fix the cost.

Sign up for market data

The table above comes from Vining Sparks’ Weekly Pricing Matrix, which displays indications of levels at which a community banker can execute an interest-rate swap contract. To receive this week’s edition, contact your Vining Sparks sales rep.

Recently, a community bank borrowed $2 million from its FHLB advance window. The term was for one year, and the floating rate was three-month LIBOR minus 11 basis points, which today equates to 0.92 percent. Concurrently, the bank turned it into a five-year fixed-rate instrument that cost, all in, 1.94 percent. In other words, it costs 1.02 percent today to extend the duration of an advance from 90 days to five years. If rates go up in the future, your cost does not, and the swap potentially could be accretive to the bottom line.

Custom-built financial strategies are not beyond the grasp of community banks. In fact, nearly 20 percent of FDIC institutions under $1 billion in assets had some type of interest-rate product in play at the end of 2016. Many of these strategies had principal values of less than $2 million. Our advice: Talk to a respected interest-rate strategies firm about how your community bank can use financial architecture to dress up its risk profile and its bottom line.


Jim Reber (jreber@icbasecurities.com) is president and CEO of ICBA Securities, ICBA’s institutional fixed-income broker-dealer for community banks.

Katharine Bray (kbray@vsirp.com) is director of sales and trading of Vining Sparks Interest Rate Products, ICBA Securities’ exclusively endorsed broker.