It's just another day on the job for veteran equities analyst Richard X. Bove when he says
, its board and its interim management "have no idea how to run this company."
Bove's perception came after the Charlotte, N.C., bank announced last week that it had ceased making option adjustable-rate mortgages. Wachovia's roughly $120 billion option-ARM portfolio has caused the company to take billions of dollars of losses as the housing market dropped, leading the reeling bank to push out CEO Ken Thompson.
"The company has articulated no new strategy; presented no new business model; selected no new CEO; and/or connected with no new acquisition partner. ... These guys ran this company into the ground and they have no idea as to how to get it out of trouble except to stop making Pick-a-Pay mortgages," he writes. "Therefore I am making a suggestion. Hire
former Morgan Stanley CEO Phil Purcell as CEO."
Sometimes he's right, sometimes he's wrong. But the 67-year-old Bove always attracts a substantial amount of attention by voicing confrontational, often on-target opinions of the 27 banks and brokerage firms he covers.
Bove and other outspoken analysts, like Oppenheimer & Co.'s Meredith Whitney, were among the first of their peers to call out banks and brokerages on their overextended leveraging and their need to raise capital before the first rumblings of a credit crisis.
Bove's candor and accessibility to the media have earned him frequent guest spots on the financial television network
and quotes in major national newspapers. Still, Bove says he sometimes feels overwhelmed by the amount of calls he gets each day from the media. But
, Bove's employer since May, when the brokerage bought Punk Ziegel, loves the publicity.
"Their message to me is talk to everybody all the time," Bove said in an interview with
Bove's popularity with the media may be due to his outspokenness, but perhaps also because he has been right on his calls more often than not in recent years. He has been named by
The Wall Street Journal
, among others, as a top stock-picker and earnings predictor.
Early last month,
cited Bove as one of the top two analysts who made investors the most money in the past year. His sell ratings on the large brokerage firms produced profits of 18%, a performance bested only by Charles Peabody of Portales Partners, whose ratings calls produced investors' profits of 47%,
"I always take a look at the macro factors -- financial or economic -- which are driving an industry, and then I make a decision as to whether I want to be invested in it or not," Bove says. "The problem with that approach is that I would have to say I am always early.
"Everybody in this business knows if you're too early, you're wrong, and therefore you have to go though this agonizing period until the events swing in the direction you will think it will swing," he says. "We're not playing this game for 10% or 15% returns. We're looking for hundreds of percent. I don't do any corporate finance business at all, so I live or die based upon my recommendations."
There have been many early calls over the years, including one that got him fired from Shearson Lehman in 1990 during the commercial real estate loan crisis. In November of that year, he had predicted that bank stocks would bottom and began "aggressively buying bank stocks," which apparently his employers did not approve of. Less than a week later, "those stocks hit bottom and went up" hundreds of percent, Bove says.
Despite the firing, Bove says that was his best call ever.
More recently, Bove's August 2005 report titled, "This Powder Keg is Going to Blow" has proven particularly prescient. In it, he predicted the meltdown in the housing industry at a time the sector was still flying high.
Over his 43-year career, Bove has had more than one tussle with the companies he covers, he says. Wachovia, the subject of his recent scorn, declined to comment for this article.
But his strong, seasoned opinions are especially appreciated by clients searching for insight when banks stocks are extremely volatile, some say.
"If you look at what is going on in the sector -- no reasonable opinion is too far out there," says one institutional client who relies on Bove's research. "The research is more thought-provoking. A lot of us find that intellectually interesting and something we want to hear."
However, Bove "does tend to be a bit of a contrarian," the client says. "He's a candid, sincere guy and goes out there and says what he thinks. He's not afraid of putting it in writing when he thinks
a company is screwing up."
Ladenburg Thalmann acquired Punk Ziegel in May as part of its effort to build up its middle-market investment banking business in the health care, utilities and financial institutions sectors. Ladenburg is known for its dealings in private investments in public equity, or PIPEs and specified purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, but Punk Ziegel gives it a presence in the health care niche and the financial sector through Bove, the firm's high-profile analyst.
"Dick is one of the most respected, visible, credible analysts on the Street, and in one fell swoop with him, we've gotten immediate credibility in the financial services industry," CEO Richard Lampen says. "Dick has been in this business for over 40 years. He is a seasoned executive. He's such a visible person out there with strong views. I'm not surprised that he is very much in demand by the media."
Bove was born in Boston but spent most of his life in New York, working at various specialty research firms and a few Wall Street brokerages over the years. At first, he covered the building business and then financial institutions. He moved to Florida in 1994 and says he prefers working for a boutique firm.
"These little firms today that I have worked for in the last six or seven years have allowed me complete freedom," he says. "I don't have to kiss the butt of any CEO. ... I can just go back to being what I was when I was when I started the business -- which was picking stocks."
He says his worst call was when he told clients to sell their bank-stock positions when the U.S. got involved in Bosnia in the 1990s.
Bove does not apologize for his outspokenness. "You have to be opinionated," he says. "If you're not willing to be opinionated, you really should not be doing this."
"I just try and be honest; I admit when I am wrong, he says. "I admit when I am right. I just tell people what I think. And I'm not trying to sell anybody anything."
But some observers point to Bove's more outrageous calls that have earned him his maverick reputation.
"He's known as kind of a kook on the Street," says one equity research analyst, who asked not to be named. "Part of it is because he's made these sort of statements to the press that are outrageous, and so the press loves him because he says things that are off the wall. But I don't think he knows the companies as well as some of the analysts on the Street."
Last month, Bove alleged that
CFO Gary Crittenden
by making a material statement regarding further writedowns during a Webcast presentation.
"The fashion by which the company made this information available is questionable and unacceptable to this analyst," Bove wrote in a June 19 note. "Material information was made available but it is open to question if it was made available in a fair and honest fashion to all investors. Perhaps SEC FD is dead. Shame on Citigroup."
Ironically, Citi happens to be Bove's top pick, with
Bank of America
his second favorite. He has buy ratings on both.
Bove says everything Citi CEO Vikram Pandit has done so far, less than a year into his reign, "has been correct."
"He has not made one mistake," Bove says, regarding Pandit's decisions to re-energize the global firm through management changes, workforce reductions and asset sales.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Bove has been vocal this year regarding his disappointment with the large brokerages. He has sell ratings on
, and hold ratings on
, "but it's not because I like their business models; it's because they're cheap," Bove says.
Another example of Bove's down-to-earth demeanor was in an April note on Merrill, where he admitted that he was as at a loss to explain the firm's poor first-quarter earnings.
"It would be disingenuous of me to indicate that I understood what has happened at Merrill Lynch in the first quarter or that I had any rational way to estimate what the company's earnings are likely to be going forward," he wrote at the time. "
It appears to me that the company has provided bits and pieces of data sprinkled through its relatively sparse press release that almost tries to make it more difficult than normal to figure out what has happened."
Still, Bove sees value in the bank stocks.
"The market capitalizations are below the liquidation values," he says. "You're buying these things at a staggeringly low price relative to what it would cost to create one.
"All of these charges that you see are all non-cash charges and they reflect events that occurred two to three years ago," he continues. "Every aspect of how you would analyze a bank other than loan losses is up."
Bove is expecting dismal second-quarter earnings from the banks, "but I think the numbers are going to be better than they were in the first quarter," he says. "If nonperforming assets stabilize, the bank stocks will take off. If they continue to deteriorate, the bank stocks will stay under pressure."
Despite having seven children and 13 grandchildren all located near his home outside of Tampa, Bove has no plans for retirement.
"I hope I die at my desk, as they say," Bove says. "This is fun. This stuff is great. This stuff constantly changes. This stuff challenges every aspect of what you do. This stuff gives you tremendous lows and tremendous highs. How can you replace that with sitting on some hammock looking at the ocean in Hawaii?"