New York Community Bancorp Upgraded on Deal Speculation

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- New York Community Bancorp ( NYB) is known to pay one of the highest dividends among actively-traded bank stocks, and KBW analysts believe it is likely to make an acquisition that could give it an earnings boost.

New York Community was upgraded to an "outperform" rating from "market perform" late on Wednesday, by KBW analyst Collyn Gilbert.

Gilbert raised her price target for the shares to $15.00 from $13.00, saying in a report that "while certain bank stocks appear constrained by a lack of catalysts, an acquisition for NYCB could prove to be a positive catalyst for the shares." The analyst said the price-target increase reflected "a 60% probability that New York Community is able to execute an accretive acquisition."

New York Community Bancorp had $44.1 billion in total assets as of Dec. 31, operating branches under several local bank names, including Queens County Savings Bank.

The bank has traditionally focused on multifamily lending in the New York City area, concentrating on apartment buildings with below-market rents, leading to a long-term record for excellent asset quality. The company has a long history of acquiring local competitors and also expanded its regional footprint beyond New York and New Jersey to include Ohio, Florida and Arizona, through its last major acquisition of AmTrust Bank of Cleveland, in December 2009.

The purchase of the failed AmTrust from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. also greatly expanded New York Community's single-family mortgage lending business. CEO Joseph Ficalora at a conference on Monday said the company had originated over $30 billion in residential mortgage loans since the AmTrust acquisition, according to a transcript provided by Thomson Reuters.

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Ficalora said "we are an acquirer of banks, and we are likely to do a highly accretive deal." A large deal would take the company over the $50 billion total assets threshold, making it a "systemically important financial institution," subjecting the company to greater regulatory scrutiny and annual Federal Reserve stress tests through the Capital Plan Review (CapPR).

Ficalora said that New York Community was "actively working toward getting regulatory approval so as to be a SIFI bank -- a bigger bank." He added that "It is our intent to do whatever the necessary work is to get that approval because, in the environment ahead, there will be opportunities to create great value for shareholders by doing, at least in our case, first a large deal and then whatever other deals we need to do."

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