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First Horizon needs more than stock buybacks to support current valuation, J.P. Morgan says



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FIRST HORIZON NEEDS MORE THAN STOCK BUYBACKS TO SUPPORT CURRENT VALUATION, J.P. MORGAN SAYS

First Horizon's FHN.N shares have gained 67% since the U.S. lender was forsaken by Toronto-Dominion Bank TD.TO in May last year, but its valuation is being held up by stock buybacks rather than strong core business growth, J.P. Morgan wrote.

FHN will need to make good use of its presence in the fast-growing markets across the southeast U.S. to command a premium valuation versus peers, according to the brokerage.

So far in 2024, the lender's shares have jumped 6%, outperforming rivals like Pinnacle Financial Partners PNFP.O and BankUnited BKU.N, which are off nearly 12% each. The KBW regional banking index .KRX is off around 14% so far in 2024.

Any material loan growth is unlikely in the near-term, however, as First Horizon's customers are expected to wait for more clarity on rate cuts before they start borrowing, J.P. Morgan said, while reiterating its "neutral" rating on the stock.

"The company would need to see its stronger than peer markets start to translate into stronger than peer growth," analyst Steven Alexopoulos said.

While high interest rates can allow banks to earn more interest on loans, they can also spook customers, who may defer their plans to borrow capital.

Deposit costs are also closely tied to the Federal Reserve's benchmark rate, and can eat into banks' profitability.

Expanding its branch footprint in Dallas and Raleigh, where the bank currently has a small presence, could help it grow. Fees from its bond trading and underwriting business could also help, the brokerage added.

Canada's TD called off its $13.4 deal for First Horizon in May last year after months of regulatory uncertainty.

(Niket Nishant)

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