First Niagara Financial Group announced earnings of 15 cents a share on Friday, in line with expectations. But the big question was about the Buffalo-based bank’s future, specifically a rumored sale to Long Island’s New York Community Bank Corp. or Canada’s TD Bank, also with a large Island presence.
And, no surprise, there was no big answer to the big question.
“First Niagara has a long-standing policy that we simply do not comment on market rumors or speculation,” CEO Gary Crosby said on a conference call with analysts, before asking that they not ask again.
Bloomberg reported in September that First Niagara had hired JPMorgan Chase to review a variety of strategic options, including a sale. That news has been about the only thing moving First Niagara stock, which has languished below $10 a share.
The banking firm has struggled to capitalize on a series of acquisitions it made and faces the same challenge as most banks — making money in an era of continuing low interest rates that eliminates the so-called “yield curve.”
A First Niagara sale would be a big blow to the Buffalo region, which is slowly climbing out of decades of economic gloom thanks to mammoth state support. First Niagara employs more than 2,000 people in Western New York, including 750 headquarters staff, usually the first to go in post-sale streamlining.
Friday’s results looked great on a year-over-year basis, at least: In Q3 2014, the bank took a onetime loss of $665 million to reflect a write down of $800 million — later increased to $1.1 billion — on the value of previous acquisitions.