Communities First Financial Corporation Earns $2.56 Million for 4Q19, up 58% from 4Q18; Net Income Increased 47% to $9.20 Million for 2019

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FRESNO, Calif., Jan. 14, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- the parent company of Fresno First Bank (the “Bank”), today reported net income increased 58% to a record $2.56 million, or $0.86 per diluted share for the fourth quarter of 2019 compared to $1.62 million, or $0.56 per diluted share for the fourth quarter of 2018.  Net income for the third quarter of 2019 was $2.24 million, or $0.75 per diluted share. 

For the year ended December 31, 2019, net income increased 47% to a record $9.20 million, or $3.09 per diluted share compared to $6.25 million, or $2.14 per diluted share for the year ended December 31, 2018.  All results are unaudited.

“For the fourth quarter and full year, our stellar performance reflects the successful and continued execution of our strategic growth plan which is supported by the expansion of our franchise into Southern California and our national payments business,” said Steve Miller, President and Chief Executive Officer. “We generated record net income and earnings per share, produced topline revenue, delivered industry leading returns on assets and equity, and grew our book value by over 24% from a year earlier.  At the same time, our loan portfolio grew 20% year-over-year, while our total deposit base increased 14% with non-interest bearing deposits increasing 17% year-over-year.

“Our focus on the electronic payments space continued to gain momentum in the second half of 2019, substantially increasing non-interest income.  Overall, non-interest income increased 69% year-over-year, which was largely driven by the growth in merchant services and the gain on sale of loans generated from our Southern California operation,” added Miller.  “We also expanded our net interest margin by 27 basis points by year-end and ended the year with an efficiency ratio of 49%.

“As we head into 2020, we feel confident about the opportunity to gain market share across our franchise and our ability to prudently manage our operating expenses as we continue to invest in the future of our franchise,” said Miller.  “We would like to thank our employees for their hard work and dedication in delivering value to each of our customers and shareholders.”

Net interest income, before the provision for loan losses, increased 17% to $5.89 million for the fourth quarter of 2019, compared to $5.03 million for the fourth quarter a year ago, reflecting higher yield on investment securities and solid year-over-year loan growth.  Net interest income increased 4% from $5.69 million in the preceding quarter.  For the full year, net interest income, before the provision for loan losses, increased 21% to $22.11 million, compared to $18.25 million for 2018.

Total non-interest income increased 40% to $1.56 million for the fourth quarter of 2019, compared to $1.12 million for the fourth quarter of 2018 and grew 65% from $946,000 for the third quarter of 2019.  For the full year, non-interest income was $4.05 million, up 69% from $2.40 million for 2018. 

“Fueling our growth in non-interest income was our gain on sale of loans and merchant services income which boosted revenues significantly both quarter-over-quarter and for the full year,” said Steve Canfield, Chief Financial Officer.  “The Southern California loan team began operations in the fourth quarter of 2018, and we were very pleased with the gain on sale of loan revenue they generated in 2019. Our merchant services team brought on new partnerships in 2019 and a number of highly profitable national accounts that boosted merchant services revenue by more than 164%.”

The net interest margin was 4.50% for the fourth quarter of 2019, compared to 4.46% for the fourth quarter of 2018, and 4.73% for the third quarter of 2019.  “The contraction in the net interest margin from the preceding quarter was primarily due to the shift in earning assets, which resulted in much higher average balances on overnight funds, and to a lesser extent due to the impact of lower fed funds and prime interest rates,” stated Canfield.

For the full year of 2019, the net interest margin expanded 27 basis points to 4.74% from 4.47% for 2018.  “We were able to increase our net interest margin in a challenging interest rate environment, and the increase in our fee income run rates should be a solid buffer against interest income pressure we expect to see in 2020 from the full impact of the Federal Reserve’s recent rate decreases,” added Canfield.  “In the meantime, with 64% of our deposit base in zero interest operating accounts, our net interest margin continues to be strong.”

The yield on interest earning assets was 4.73% for the fourth quarter of 2019, compared to 4.64% for the fourth quarter a year ago and 4.97% on a linked quarter basis.  The cost of funds stayed low at 0.23% in the fourth quarter of 2019 compared to 0.18% for the fourth quarter a year ago, and 0.24% on a linked quarter basis.  For the year of 2019, the yield on earning assets was 4.96% compared to 4.63% for 2018.  

Non-interest expense for the fourth quarter of 2019 was $3.61 million, compared to $3.45 million for the fourth quarter of 2018, and $3.33 million for the third quarter of 2019.  For the full year, non-interest expense totaled $12.88 million compared to $11.27 million for 2018. 

“The higher operating expenses during the year continue to reflect the investment associated with the expansion of our franchise operations and hiring of key talent,” added Canfield.  “We will continue to invest in people and systems to both grow and increase efficiency.  We were pleased to grow top line revenue in 2019 while at the same time driving our efficiency ratio below 50% for the year.”

The efficiency ratio improved to 48.44% for the fourth quarter of 2019, compared to 56.07% for the fourth quarter a year ago, and 50.25% for the third quarter of 2019.  For the full year of 2019, the efficiency ratio was 49.26% compared to 54.56% for 2018. 

Total assets increased 15% to $538.39 million at December 31, 2019, from $467.21 million at December 31, 2018, and remained flat from $538.73 million at September 30, 2019.  Total portfolio loans increased by $59.83 million, or 20%, to $363.24 million at December 31, 2019, from $303.41 million a year ago, and grew 4% from $348.56 million at September 30, 2019.  

The commercial and industrial (C&I) portfolio increased 7% from a year earlier to $155.33 million and represented 43% of total loans at December 31, 2019.  Commercial real estate (CRE) loans grew 43% to $145.23 million, or 40% of total loans.  Agriculture loans grew 22% from a year ago to $34.13 million and represented 9% of total loans; real estate construction and land development totaled $17.65 million, or 5% of loans, while residential home loans were $10.29 million, or 3% of loans.  At December 31, 2019, the SBA, USDA or other government agencies, guaranteed $93.20 million, or 26% of the loan portfolio.

Total deposits increased 14% to $482.87 million at December 31, 2019, compared to $424.35 million from a year earlier, and declined slightly from $486.18 million at September 30, 2019.  Non-interest-bearing demand deposits grew 17% to $307.53 million at December 31, 2019, compared to 2018, and represented 64% of total deposits.

“We have welcomed many new customers this year; in fact, this is our best year ever for adding new customer relationships, which speaks highly of our franchise and the products and services we offer,” said Canfield.  “During the fourth quarter we disbursed a $20.0 million deposit account we were escrowing for a school district as part of a loan syndication which impacted overall deposit growth for the quarter.”

Net shareholder’s equity increased 28% to $51.96 million at December 31, 2019, compared to $40.71 million a year ago.  Book value per common share grew 24% to $17.67 at December 31, 2019, compared to $14.24 at December 31, 2018

“The continued overall improvement in the quality of our loan portfolio reflects the hard work of our lending and credit teams,” stated Miller.  All credit quality metrics improved compared to three months ago and year-over-year.  Nonperforming assets (“NPAs”) declined to $619,000 or 0.12% of total assets at December 31, 2019, compared to $3.22 million, or 0.69% of total assets, at December 31, 2018, and $765,000, or 0.14% of total assets at September 30, 2019.  Performing restructured loans, consisting of one loan, improved during the quarter, dropping to $501,000 at December 31, 2019.  This loan is performing under a restructured arrangement that is being closely monitored. 

The provision for loan losses was $410,000 for the fourth quarter of 2019, compared to $650,000 for the fourth quarter a year ago and $235,000 recorded in the third quarter of 2019.  For the full year, net charge-offs totaled $152,000 at December 31, 2019, compared to $265,000 in 2018. The allowance for loan losses to total loans ratio was 1.25% at December 31, 2019, compared to 1.33% a year earlier, and 1.18% at September 30, 2019. 

Communities First Financial Corporation, a bank holding company established in 2014, is the parent company of Fresno First Bank, founded in 2005 in Fresno, California.  Fresno First Bank is a leading SBA Lender in California’s Central Valley and has expanded into Southern California.  The Bank is also a direct acquiring bank with VISA and MasterCard and processes payments for merchants across the country directly and through partners.  Named to the 2019 OTCQX Best 50, and ranked one of the top performing OTCQX companies in the country, based on total return and growth in average daily dollar volume for 2018. The Bank was named to the Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Companies list in 2017 and to Forbes Best 25 Small Businesses in America for 2016.  Additional information is available from the Company’s website at or by calling 559-439-0200.   

This earnings release may contain forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements provide current expectations or forecasts of future events and are not guarantees of future performance, nor should they be relied upon as representing management’s views as of any subsequent date. The forward-looking statements are based on managements’ expectations and are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties. Although management believes that the expectations reflected in such forward-looking statements are reasonable, actual results may differ materially from those expressed or implied in such statements. Risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially include, without limitation, the Company’s ability to effectively execute its business plans; changes in general economic and financial market conditions; changes in interest rates; changes in the competitive environment; continuing consolidation in the financial services industry; new litigation or changes in existing litigation; losses, customer bankruptcy, claims and assessments; changes in banking regulations or other regulatory or legislative requirements affecting the Company’s business; international developments; and changes in accounting policies or procedures as may be required by the Financial Accounting Standards Board or other regulatory agencies. The Company undertakes no obligation to release publicly the results of any revisions to the forward-looking statements included herein to reflect events or circumstances after today, or to reflect the occurrence of unanticipated events.  The Company claims the protection of the safe harbor for forward-looking statements contained in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995.

 

Contact:Steve Miller – President & CEOSteve Canfield – Executive Vice President & CFO(559) 439-0200

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Globe Newswire: 14:00 GMT Tuesday 14th January 2020

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