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UMB's Kemper Proves Boring Is Better: Best In Class

Stocks in this article: UMBF

"When we would do our analyst calls -- or for that matter, when the regulators would come in and, say , 'How come you're not using your capital more aggressively? How come you're not doing the subprime thing more aggressively? How come you're not doing this? How come you're not doing that? Like everybody else,'" Kemper recalls, "We'd just stick to our guns every time and say, 'This is our profile. This is what we do. You can either buy our stock or sell our stock.'"

UMB appeared to be underperforming during the subprime boom, but Kemper's determinacy ultimately paid off. Since his appointment as CEO, UMB's earnings have more than doubled on asset growth of just 19%. In 2008, the pinnacle of the financial crisis, the Kansas City, Mo.-based bank posted 32% earnings growth. Net charge-offs represented just 0.28% of its loan book vs. an average rate of about 1.8% for U.S. thrifts and banks.

When asked for a suggestion for the best CEO of a small-cap bank, Sorrentino thought immediately of Kemper.

"In boom times, it looked like they were eating stupid cookies because their portfolio wasn't growing as much," Sorrentino explains. "But they ... just did it right the whole way through the crisis; they have a big asset management arm; they're very smart on credit."

Sorrentino has held UMB stock in his portfolio for years. Its performance hasn't been as breathtaking as more troubled companies this year, but neither did the stock plunge quite as precipitously during the broad equities sell-off from the fall of 2008 through early March of this year. Its shares have traded in a range of $33.65 to $60 over the past 52 weeks, with a market cap of $1.64 billion as of Monday's close at $40.36.

"They didn't go down nearly as much as the bad guys, and therefore they haven't bounced nearly as much either," says Roger Young, a portfolio manager who focuses on bank stocks at Miller/Howard Investments.

"We're not a stock for a trader," Kemper adds. "You won't see the swings in our earnings; you're going to see stable growth."

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