Webster Financial Earnings Call Insights: Loan Growth Outlook and Efficiency Details

Webster Financial Corp (NYSE:WBS) recently reported its first quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call.

Loan Growth Outlook

Bob Ramsey – FBR Capital Markets: I was hoping if we could just talk a little bit about loan growth, I know the average growth in the quarter was strong at 2% and your end of period balance were down a touch, but it sounds as if you expect average growth in the second quarter to be pretty good too if it’s 1% to 2%. Just is that based on where the pipeline is sort of going into second quarter because the end of period balances would seem to be a little bit lighter than that?

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Gerald P. Plush – President and COO, Webster Bank and Webster Financial Corporation: Hey, Bob its Gerry. Definitely, we’re seeing a very nice uptick in throughout the comments I know that Jim made as well as myself. We tried to give a little bit of color of where it was still strong quarter to quarter in comparison, but clearly in commercial and business banking we’ve rebuilt the pipelines. So, we’re back up overall in the $1 billion plus range. So, we were at a low point in 12/31 so we knew that in particularly there were a lot of customers that wanted to get transactions done we made those comments in the calls in Q4. We’re trying to highlight in certain areas this quarter where it was but I think one of the things you’re hearing us express is that the team really has got a lot of momentum. There is no question there is still all the competition out there in terms of pricing in all the different markets, but clearly the rebuilding took place during the quarter and so we feel very comfortable going into the second quarter that we’re heading into it with a much, much stronger pipeline.

Bob Ramsey – FBR Capital Markets: Then just sort of taking a little bit of step back. When we look at the Fed data we can see that the industry as a whole was down slightly in the first quarter do you think that really is the trend that you talked about earlier of volume being pulled forward into the fourth quarter or do you think that this quarter the customers that you talk to is there any sort of slowdown in their need or desire to borrow?

James C. Smith – Chairman and CEO: It’s Jim. I’ll comment that we think that most of it was the pull forward into the fourth quarter and we haven’t seen a material shift in attitude from our clients.

Efficiency Details

Steve Alexopoulos – JPMorgan: I wanted to start with the efficiency. With the operating efficiency ratio down you said around 350 basis points year-over-year, one, is there as much focus on improving that ratio this year as there was last year and secondly, could we see another improvement somewhere in that similar range for this year?

Glenn I. Maclnnes – CFO, Webster Bank and Webster Financial Corporation: Steve, it’s Glen. So, we think as we’ve indicated that we’ll get to 60 or back to 60 in Q2, and I think if you look at it, and you look at our core expenses, a fair amount of what you saw, the pop up in Q1 was seasonality, about $2 million to $2.5 million in expenses and you also heard the examples of JLL and FIS. So, we continue to rationalize our expense base to further improve efficiency.

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James C. Smith – Chairman and CEO: And, I’ll add to that, that it is a constant with us. We talk about pathway to 60, P260 or better. It’s a way of life. Every day, we’re thinking about it, we’re talking about it. I mentioned three of the initiatives that we’re undertaking where we expanded our relationship with our item processor to gain efficiencies and we outsourced some of our facilities management and we’ve got an E-forms project and we have a project management team and operating review team that spend all of their time, looking for ways to improve our efficiency, a large part of which is to continue to rationalize expenses even as we’re trying to drive revenue growth.

Gerald P. Plush – President and COO, Webster Bank and Webster Financial Corporation: Steve, it’s Jerry. One other thing that we’ve mentioned in prior calls, but we’ve actually now really build up the team, we’ve got a dedicated continuous improvement unit that’s staffed with Six Sigma experts. We’re actually rolling out in the second quarter, a Green Belt training for a number of our players in different functions across the organization. To just echo in the comments you just heard from Glenn and Jim is, we’re going to be relentless about this. I think we have been and we’re really, really going to work through, and at the end of the day, this will squeeze out not only real dollars but also make it a lot easier to do business, for our customers to do business with us and for us to actually deliver on everything to them both internally and externally. So a lot, a lot of work going on in this area.

Steve Alexopoulos – JPMorgan: Maybe to follow up on that Jones Lang LaSalle agreement. Is there any initial look as to the branches you might close or consolidate this year?

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Gerald P. Plush – President and COO, Webster Bank and Webster Financial Corporation: It is Jerry. We are working hard on that. I think we are going to have probably some more clarity on that in the second quarter call.

Steve Alexopoulos – JPMorgan: My final question was on the margin. I thought you said you expect the market down 5 basis points in 2Q and then getting close to bottom so does that imply the rest of the year you expect relatively flat from that level, is that what you are saying?

Glenn I. Maclnnes – CFO, Webster Bank and Webster Financial Corporation: We think if the 10-year swap goes back up around to that it will stabilize the margin. The 10-year swap this morning is at 189, right. But we think then the margin will be stabilized in the second half of 2013.

James C. Smith – Chairman and CEO: But we’d want to be careful not to be suggesting that it would be flat in Q3, we don’t know. It would be attaining a trough in Q3 so you could see further diminishment in that quarter.