Riverview blends optimism with caution

Bank parent addresses shareholders

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian Business Editor



Riverview Bancorp executives interspersed positive messages about Riverview Community Bank’s fiscal health with cautionary notes that the nation’s banking industry still faces troubled waters at the Vancouver-based bank’s annual shareholder meeting Wednesday.

Ron Wysaske, Riverview’s president and chief operating officer, even said the bank intends to restore a cash dividend to investors “as soon as possible” after an absence of several years. That statement generated the most discussion during a question-and-answer period with shareholders.

Pressed by Shirley Cox of White Salmon for a more specific timeline, Wysaske and Pat Sheaffer, Riverview’s chairman and chief executive officer, said the timing is in the hands of federal regulators who have pressed Riverview to build ever deeper reserves and to further reduce its shrinking inventory of nonperforming assets.

“There’s a fear in some people’s minds that we may not make it, even though that’s ridiculous,” Wysaske said.

Riverview on Tuesday reported a quarterly net income of $1.1 million, a reserve fund of 14.7 percent, exceeding the federal standard of 10 percent, and a slight decrease in its inventory of distressed properties, to $27.2 million. With profits for five consecutive quarters, increased deposits and a new Oregon branch in the works, Riverview leaders projected confidence to dozens of investors at the annual meeting.

“The fundamentals of our company are sound,” Wysaske said, noting that more than 300 banks had closed their doors in the past two years.

But the give-and-take with investors led to a discussion of Riverview’s share price, which has long hovered in what Sheaffer called “three dollar hell.” The bank’s stock peaked above $16 per share in early 2007 before collapsing during the recession, and has hovered at around $3 per share for most of this year. (It closed at $3.02 Wednesday).

Wysaske noted that the book value — the value of its assets — is estimated at about $3.60 per share. The stock of many banks has recovered to at least match their book value, he said, and bank executives struggle to understand why Riverview’s stock is lagging.

One possible explanation, Wysaske said, is fear by investors that the local economy is still far from recovery. Another could be what he called a “thrift discount” due to the fact that Riverview is regulated as a thrift, rather than a bank. Riverview recently applied for designation as a state-chartered bank regulated by the state and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

“We want to get the stock price where it should be,” he said.