Bank of the Ozarks (ORZK) is a $5.5 billion market cap commercial real estate driven bank based in Little
Rock, AK. The bank differentiates itself from peers and brings in business based on its ability to participate
in complex deals and close faster than peers (as loans are not syndicated). I would argue itin turn protects
shareholders by underwriting loans at a conservative loan-to-value and generally maintaining a senior
secured position to other lenders. The bank has been managed for twenty-eight years byCEO George
Gleason. It has consistently generated strong earnings growth and high ROA and ROE and with minimal
loan losses in its non-purchased loan book. The record suggests Ozark is a well-run bank and I believe the
stock has approximately 30% upside over the next two years assuming no multiple expansion. Should the
growth opportunity be realized, the stock has the potential for a multi-year run of mid-teens stock
appreciation. Pluto wrote up OZRK in March of 2016 and his write up provides additional background and
I recommend it.
The bank trades at a 15 P/E and a 2.15x price to tangible book value. After trading at a P/E in excess of 20,
the bank has seen the multiple decline to its current levels, in part, on the heels of the loss of the long-
time head of its Real Estate Investment Group (RESG) on July 27, 2017 and in 2016, a Muddy Waters
presentation highlighting the risks of commercial real estate given growth. However, I believe the bank
when viewed as the real estate lender it clearly claims to be, is conservatively managed and that its
earnings and returns are real and warrant at least the multiple it now has, if not reclaiming some of that
which has been lost recently should its growth initiatives play out successfully.
Consensus earnings for Ozark are $2.96 for 2017, at 15% increase over 2016; and $3.33 for 2018, a 13%
increase. Based on the unfunded loan book, growth plans that are underway, and their track record, I
believe earnings should continue to grow mid-teens until the next recession hits. One way to look at a
return would be a mid-teens annual return as earnings and book value grow and assuming the multiple
stays at its current 15x level. Pinning that down to fair-value over a reasonable time frame: $3.33 earnings
for 2018, $3.82 for 2019. Fifteen times $3.82 equals $57 or about 30% return over the next two years.
Upfront, I understandOzark attracts detractors and I respect the concerns. However, I believe
management has proven themselves and I believe they will continue to do so; that is, in absence of a
recession. While I believe conservative underwriting will prove a backstop of safety for the business in a
real estate downturn and limit write-offs, conservative underwriting is not going to keep the stock price
up if the economy or real estate rolls over. If you believe we’re on the cusp of a recession and I – for now
– do not, then this (or any other bank stock) is not the stock for you.
Arguably the roots of the real estate driven bank Ozark is today began in 2001 with the opening of a loan
production office Charlotte, North Carolina followed by consistentadditionalexpansion in the Carolinas
and other Southern states. The focus of loan production being what the bank knows best: commercial real
estate. Over time, loan productionoffices would ultimately be converted to full-fledged deposit taking
banks. After proving their expansion model in markets closer to home, they ramped up expansion across
the south with offices in Austin (2012), Atlanta (2012 and Houston (2014) and more recently beginning to
build the outline of a national footprint with offices in New York (2013), Los Angeles (2014) and San
The company is currently working to build out these and their other more recent expansions. Loan
production from these offices should continue to grow and over time deposit growth should begin to
follow. Milestones to watch for include loan production in non-South cities that seasons without
unexpected losses and with local deposit growth. I argue that that as the market begins to perceive that
the first expansions outside the South are successful it will switch from worrying about these first non-
South branches and instead focus on all the markets to which the company may soon expand. If they can
make it in NYC, LA and SF, the success will bring confidence that they can successfully enter lower tier
cities, of which there is a long list.
A sense that the growth opportunity has a long-term run ahead and may allow the P/E multiple to expand
from the current 15x up in the direction of 20+ which it has been in the recent past. My investment thesis
is not based on multiple expansion, but would benefit from it should it occur. For instance, an 18x multiple
applied to the $3.82 of prospective 2019 earnings I laid out earlier implies a $68.75 fair value and 56%
upside. However, as noted, this is not part of my thesis.
The bullish argument for Ozark and its growth plans is that they focus on real estate because that is what
they know best and do well. This is not unlike in some sense a credit card company that focuses on
consumer credit or an aircraft lessor focused on aircraft leasing. I do get the sense that negative
arguments against the bank often imply that the bank is hiding their real estate exposure and the fact that
their growth is tied to it. Here is the latest presentation. An investor could hardly feel less forewarned.
A link to the OZRK presentation:
The company has grown their real estate loan book by providing project sponsors with 2-3 year
construction loans that can be accessed fast. In turn the bank focuses on senior loan positions in low
leverage, high quality projects. The bank argues that a project sponsor, should the project meet Ozark’s
standards, can obtain a loan in about two months based on one vetting with Ozark. This compares to five
or six months via other sources and often with multiple vettings. The sponsor improves their IRR by
accelerating the project and avoids some headache by only dealing with Ozark. Ozark in return gains
market share and obtains a loan with a conservative risk profile.
Speaking to the conservativeness of the bank’s loan operation, as the bank has expanded the geography
of its real estate loans (in the Real Estate Specialties Group or RESG) it has also reduced LTV (Chart 1.) and
in the financial crisis had minimal RESG losses (Table 1.) and always maintained positive earnings (Table
Chart 1: Recent history of reducing LTC and LTV.