Sterling Bancorp Overcomes Mortgage Challenges



Sterling Bancorp in Southfield, Michigan is close to ditching the lingering problems of a defunct mortgage program.

The $ 3.7 billion company, which has been battling the effects of alleged fraud in what was once its largest business line, raised $ 2.3 million in the first quarter after losing about $ 27 million in the previous five quarters.

Sterling, led by CEO Thomas O’Brien, also announced the sale of several subsidiaries and a decision class action what followed the sudden closure of it tarnished Concessional lending program.

These events have given some optimism to those covering the company.

“After a couple of blocks [losses], the positive first quarter results were a welcome sight, ”Ben Gerlinger, an analyst at the Hovde Group, wrote in a client note on Monday.

“We believe the pound sterling is at baseline for what is likely to be a 12-month round” of improved investor returns, Gerlinger added.

O’Brien who joined Sterling Last June said the company is making progress on several fronts. It should be able to cut its legal costs and reduce the increased liquidity on its balance sheet in the second half of the year.

The shareholder settlement “puts another obstacle in the rearview mirror,” O’Brien said on Monday during a conference call. He said that a review of past transactional activity is required under formal agreement with the Office of the Comptroller, nearing completion.

“It was a costly proposition for the bank and the company,” O’Brien said.

Sterling’s attorney and professional fees for the first quarter were $ 8.8 million, or 41% of non-interest expenses. Last year, these fees amounted to $ 32.6 million.

“We expect that the second half [of 2021] there will be a gradual reduction in these extraordinary costs, ”O’Brien said.

The pound sterling, which had about $ 1.1 billion in cash as of March 31st, should have a better chance of reallocating deposits. The company created liquidity to support the buyout of Advantage Loan mortgages from outside investors.

Company out of production low documentation mortgage program at the end of 2019 after suspected fraud was discovered and several employees were fired.

Sterling expects to buy back $ 150 million to $ 160 million of Advantage Loans this quarter and a small portfolio of $ 30 million next year. Last year, the company bought back mortgage loans worth $ 88 million.

“Those who took us for our [buyback] the proposal pretty much raised their hands, ”O’Brien said.

The preemptive loans bought out were in line with Sterling’s other mortgages, O’Brien said.

“There might be some slow payments, and obviously there might just be regular loans,” O’Brien said. “For the most part, the interest not earned on accrual was no worse than what we saw at the bank.”

With better forecasts for a defunct mortgage program, O’Brien is focusing more on Sterling’s $ 448 million in construction and commercial real estate loans. He said the increase in write-downs in this portfolio is “undeniable,” although the company’s $ 72 million loan loss provision should be sufficient to cover any losses.

The legal focus associated with the Advantage Loan program also appears to be shifting away from the company and towards former executives and employees.

The Justice Department recently accused Sterling’s former managing director of home loans of conspiracy to commit banking and banking fraud. The Justice Department claims that Yihou Han accepted falsified documents and financial histories that resulted in mortgage loans for individuals involved in money laundering and tax evasion schemes.

According to the indictment, Khan provided nearly 1,300 Advantage Loans totaling $ 684 million between 2011 and 2019, receiving $ 3.4 million in commissions. Overall, according to court documents, Sterling has raised about $ 5 billion in Advantage loans.

Khan’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

Although Khan is the only Sterling employee to appear in the indictment, the Justice Department brought several former executives into the case, including the claim that “the bank’s founder and majority shareholder … oversaw the company’s management.” [Sterling] including home loan programs ”.

The indictment alleges that Khan worked closely with other senior executives to develop and expand the Advantage Loan program. In 2018, she became managing director of lending, and around the same time began attending sales meetings “at which the results of the Advantage Loan program were discussed,” the indictment says.

Scott Seligman founded Sterling Savings and Loan Association, the predecessor bank, in 1984. Family trusts linked to the Seligman family still own more than half of Sterling’s shares, even after the $ 115 million sale of shares in the company’s initial public offering in 2017. to the normative documents.

Although Seligman declined to discuss the Justice Department’s investigation, he said the Advantage Loan program was created to provide funding opportunities for the Sino-American community.

“We created a culture of trust and service with a minority community that had language barriers and a cultural approach to debt … making it difficult to get credit,” he wrote in an email on Thursday. “This is a culture that usually does not tolerate debt. The Advantage program allowed borrowers to compete with cash offers on culturally sensitive terms. ”

Seligman said it was “no surprise” to him that Advantage Loans continues to perform well.

“When I was an advisor to the bank, there was almost no word about defaults,” he wrote in an email. “I believe the buyback rate is literally zero.”

O’Brien, who said Sterling was cooperating with investigators, added in an interview that Khan’s indictment “speaks for itself.” During the conference call, he said that the Justice Department “has begun to take action against certain individuals, and we expect these efforts to continue.”

Khan’s indictment can be seen as a sign that “the official investigation has gone beyond the bank and straight to the attackers,” Gerlinger wrote in his memo.

“While it’s still pretty early, we still believe Sterling is likely to see meaningful updates to its government investigations” in the second half of 2021, Gerlinger added.


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