Should I invest in American Riviera Bank stock (ARBV)?

Here are three reasons to invest in American Riviera Bank stock (ARBV) and three reasons to avoid it.

What does American Riviera Bank (ARBV) do?

A small bank in Santa Barbara, Calif., American Riviera opened in July of 2006. It’s done well, too, recently recently merging with The Bank of Santa Barbara. That gives ARBV two community branches, both of which are focused on growing their deposit bases and expanding lending.

Three reasons NOT to invest in American Riviera Bank stock (ARBV)

1) Under-performance. Year-to-date, ARBV is underperforming the S&P 500. Shares are up 3 percent while the broader market is up north of 5 percent. Still, that’s better than some of the nation’s largest banks. Bank of America (BAC), for example, is down more than 7 percent this year, and JPMorgan Chase (JPM) is down half a percent.

2) Merger woes. ARBV recently merged with The Bank of Santa Barbara. Unexpected costs or difficulties with the merger could impact the bank’s ability to make a profit. Mergers that look great on paper can sometimes result in culture clashes that negatively impact a business.

3) Over-the-counter shares. ARBV trades over-the-counter – not on a national securities exchange like the NASDAQ. That means ARBV isn’t held to the same stringent reporting requirements as companies on the NASDAQ. We know less about ARBV than we do other banks that trade on the NYSE.

Three reasons to invest in American Riviera Bank stock (ARBV)

1) Strong growth. 2015 saw significant growth for the bank. According to ARBV’s 2015 annual report, the company grew its average total loans by 14 percent to $179 million. The bank also grew its average assets by 12 percent to $232,000. All told, the bank had net income of $1,303,000 in 2015 (unadjusted for non-recurring merger-related costs). That worked out to $0.48 per share. “Our bank finished the year with a record $249 million in assets and 18% higher pre-tax income over 2014 excluding merger related costs,” the company wrote.

At the end of 2015, ARBV had a book value of $10.56. Today, shares are trading at $11.65. Over the past five years, ARBV shares have appreciated more than 124 percent. That’s well above the S&P 500’s return of 84 percent. “Our goal is to reach a $1 per share earnings run rate by year end,” ARBV wrote early in 2016.

2) Great track record. American Riviera Bank celebrated its 10th anniversary on July 18, 2016. The finance industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries on the planet. Staying in business and growing over the course of a decade (particularly through the housing and financial collapse of 2007-2008) is impressive.

3) Merger time. American Riviera Bank merged with The Bank of Santa Barbara effective January 1, 2016. While this is adding significant merger-related costs to the company’s books, ARBV believes the “merger has positive financial synergies.” If you’re looking for growth, two branches are better than one.

Should I buy American Riviera Bank stock (ARBV)?

ARBV’s shares look appealing so long as interest rates begin to normalize. Artificially-low interest rates make it difficult for banks to generate big profits as the spread between their borrowing rate and the rate they lend to customers is small. If ARBV can continue to grow, it will do so by capturing more of the Santa Barbara County market – an area with a median household income of $63,409. Santa Barbara County is the 17th-wealthiest county in California. Right now, ARBV controls 2.77 percent of the market there (by deposits).

Nano-cap stocks are stocks with a market capitalization of $50 million or less. Check out more of my write-ups on nano-cap stocks here. Full disclosure: I do not own a position in ARBV, and I do not plan to initiate one in the next 72 hours.

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