Discover Financial Services Earnings Call Insights: M&A Pipeline, Visa

On Tuesday, Discover Financial Services (NYSE:DFS) reported its second quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call. Here’s what the C-suite revealed.

M&A Pipeline

Sanjay Sakhrani – Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, Inc..: I have two questions. I am going to ask them upfront. So, the first one is, this is a third straight quarter where I think you guys took this charge for legal. I assume it was largely PPI related, but could you just talk about where we are in the investigation and if we should expect additional impacts in the future? Secondarily, on capital management, just on the share buyback, the roughly $450 million that you guys repurchased this quarter, is that a good quarterly run rate to expect in the future, or was part of this quarter’s accelerated purchase related to last quarter, and then maybe you could just talk about the M&A pipeline as well?

A Closer Look: Discover Financial Earnings Cheat Sheet>>

R. Mark Graf – EVP and CFO: There was a bunch in there Sanjay, but I will be happy to tackle it here, and I will let David jump in too on the M&A pipeline probably. With respect to the legal reserve matter, I think the matter is not resolved, we are engaged in ongoing dialog with the CFPB and the FDIC and we hope we can resolve it soon. It’s a constructive dialog. We obviously reserve in accordance with GAAP and the reserve is set based on probable and estimable loss contingencies, so I think beyond that I would just point you to the back of the disclosures on our first quarter 10-Q, as they contain a pretty fulsome discussion of the significant matters. Given that it’s an ongoing investigation, that’s really about all we can say. With respect to the buybacks, I would say that the $450 million probably included a little bit of catch-up activity from being dark in the market in the first quarter while we went through the capital planning process. I’d still remain pretty confident in my guidance that over the course of fiscal 2012, we’ll probably use little bit north of half of that authorization is probably the right way to think about it, that should give you some sense in terms of how to think about sizing what our thoughts are right now. That’s obviously our current thought that’s subject to change from time to time, but that’s kind of how we are looking at it at this point in time. And on the M&A pipeline, David do you specifically comment there?

David W. Nelms – Chairman and CEO: Sure. Well, I’d say first off, obviously we are pleased to have just closed our Home Loan acquisition and so our primary focus will be integrating and growing that acquisition, and we remain open to other opportunities that are Direct Banking and payment strategy and work financially, but we obviously have been very selective and careful, but would remain open to future opportunities. I can’t really comment any further on M&A pipeline per se.

R. Mark Graf – EVP and CFO: The only other thing I would strike on to that one is, because I know it’s important to all of you. I get asked regularly how we look at return hurdlers when it comes to M&A transactions and obviously we do hold them up to a higher standard because of the risk embedded in any M&A type transaction. So I’d just add that to David’s comments.


Craig Maurer – CLSA: My questions revolve around, one, David’s comments around one competitor’s actions in the market when referring to network activity. I’m assuming that’s Visa (NYSE:V) and if you could be a little bit more specific about what their actions are that you are seeing and what’s concerning you? And secondly, we heard comments on the NIM through 2012, but when looking out toward next year, should we start to see the lower yielding loans start to catch-up with the NIM?

David W. Nelms – Chairman and CEO: I’ll address the first one. I mean, obviously in debit one competitor represents 70% of the market share, so when that 70% market share competitor makes moves, tying products together and launching fixed, variable pricing design to take advantage of that 70% market share, we and many others in the industry become concerned about having the level playing field. Having a level playing field I’m very confident in PULSE’s ability to compete and bring choice and good financial performance for our financial institution customers, as well as our merchants, but obviously, Department of Justice has launched an investigation, so we’re not the only one who has some concerns. Mark?

R. Mark Graf – EVP and CFO: Yeah, on the net interest margin side of the equation, I would still say, over the longer term, the right way to think about normalized margin for us is in that 8.5% to 9% range. I think we’ve proven that we are not adapted to forecasting the compression in the card yield, in that higher rate bucket that we have out there at this point in time. So, as that is taking longer, I think it will take longer to reach that normalized range. That having been said, as we move into next year, Craig, I do expect we’ll start migrating down towards the high end of that range.