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Merchants Bancshares, Inc. Announces Strong 2008 Results, Loans Increase 16%, EPS Increases 11%

January 28, 2009 | About:

Press Release: Merchants Bancshares, Inc. Announces Strong 2008 Results, Loans Increase 16%, EPS Increases 11%

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt., Jan. 28 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Merchants Bancshares, Inc. (Nasdaq: MBVT), the parent company of Merchants Bank, today announced net income of $11.92 million or diluted earnings per share of $1.96 for the year ended December 31, 2008. This compares with net income of $10.86 million or diluted earnings per share of $1.76 from the previous year. Merchants earned $3.06 million or diluted earnings per share of $0.51 for the quarter ended December 31, 2008, compared to net income of $2.92 million or diluted earnings per share of $0.48 for the same quarter of the previous year. Merchants previously announced the declaration of a dividend of 28 cents per share, payable February 19, 2009, to shareholders of record as of February 5, 2009. The return on average assets was 0.93% for both 2008 and for the quarter ended December 31, 2008, compared to 0.96% for 2007 and 1.00% for the quarter ended December 31, 2007. The return on average equity was 15.83% for the year and 16.32% for the quarter ended December 31, 2008, compared to 15.37% for the year and 16.03% for the fourth quarter of 2007. "2008 was a strong year for us, with EPS up 11% compared to 2007, in spite of a very challenging economic climate," said Michael R. Tuttle, Merchants' President and CEO. "We experienced solid growth in both loans and deposits during the year. Merchants Bank presented a safe, stable, secure profile in contrast to the volatility evident in the daily headlines."Merchants' net interest margin increased slightly to 3.58% for 2008, compared to 3.56% for 2007, and increased 37 basis points to 3.81% for the fourth quarter of 2008, compared to 3.44% for the fourth quarter of 2007. Merchants' net interest income increased $5.44 million to $43.65 million for 2008 compared to 2007, a 14% increase, and increased $2.47 million to $12.10 million for the fourth quarter of 2008 compared to 2007, a 26% increase. Merchants' net interest margin and net interest income were positively impacted during the fourth quarter by a $194 thousand prepayment penalty received on an investment security. This prepayment penalty benefited the margin for the fourth quarter by six basis points, and benefited the margin for 2008 by one basis point. The increased net interest income is a result of an overall higher earning asset base and a higher net interest rate spread for 2008, when compared to 2007. Merchants' average earning assets for 2008 were $1.22 billion at an average yield of 5.63%, compared to $1.08 billion at an average yield of 6.01% for 2007. Average loans for 2008 were $781.65 million, a $68.53 million, or 10%, increase over 2007 average loans, and average investments were $428.20 million, a $102.34 million, or 31%, increase over 2007 averages. Average interest bearing liabilities increased to $1.07 billion at an average interest cost of 2.33% for 2008, compared to $931.59 million at an average cost of 2.83% for 2007. Loans ended 2008 at $847.13 million, a $115.62 million, or 16%, increase over 2007 ending balances. Quarterly average loans were $825.40 million for the fourth quarter of 2008, a $94.71 million increase over the fourth quarter of last year. Merchants experienced strong growth across all loan categories during 2008; year-end 2008 commercial loans were 39% higher than year end 2007, residential real estate loans were 11% higher and commercial real estate balances were 17% higher. "We continue to find opportunities with solid, longstanding, creditworthy businesses throughout Vermont. We have also experienced a 32% increase in home mortgage originations for 2008 compared to 2007; this is a direct result of the fact that we have not originated home mortgages for sale for more than ten years. Our customers like having their mortgages held and serviced right here in Vermont," commented Tuttle.Year-end loan balances were as follows:

(In thousands)                      December 31, 2008 December 31, 2007    -----------------------------------------------------------------------    Commercial, financial and     agricultural                                $129,032           $92,740    Real estate loans -     residential                                  395,834           356,472    Real estate loans -     commercial                                   273,526           234,675    Real estate loans -     construction                                  40,357            39,347    Installment loans                               7,670             7,220    All other loans                                   708             1,054    -----------------------------------------------------------------------    Total loans                                  $847,127          $731,508    -----------------------------------------------------------------------
Merchants' investment portfolio increased to $431.61 million at December 31, 2008 from $365.59 million at December 31, 2007, an 18% increase. Investments purchased during the last year have consisted exclusively of government agency mortgage-backed securities. With the exception of one AA-rated security, all securities in Merchants' investment portfolio were either Agency guaranteed or rated AAA at December 31, 2008. Merchants wrote the AA-rated security down to its estimated fair value during the fourth quarter of 2008 and recorded a pre-tax other than temporary impairment charge of $369 thousand. Deposits ended 2008 at $930.80 million, a $63.36, or 7% increase over 2007 ending balances. Quarterly average deposits were $946.53 million, a $72.13 million, or 8%, increase over the fourth quarter of last year. Time deposits were the fastest growing category of deposits during 2008, increasing 16% during 2008 to $385.12 million from $332.77 million at year end 2007. Time deposits represented 41% of Merchants' total deposits at December 31, 2008, compared to 38% of total deposits at December 31, 2007.Merchants recorded a $600 thousand provision for credit losses during the fourth quarter of 2008 and $1.53 million year-to-date, compared to a $300 thousand provision for credit losses during the fourth quarter of 2007, and $1.15 million for 2007. The increase in the provision for 2008 was primarily a result of strong loan growth during 2008, as well as increased nonperforming loans and net charge-offs during the year. Nonperforming loans ended the year at $11.64 million, compared to $9.23 million at December 31, 2007. Nonaccruing loan totals at December 31, 2008 were flat compared to September 30 of this year, as reductions, and transfers to Other Real Estate Owned ("OREO"), of existing accounts totaling approximately $1.7 million were matched by equal amounts of additions during the quarter. Tuttle commented, "We continue to make good progress on reducing existing non-accrual loans, but expect to see some of this offset by additions in the current economic environment." At December 31, 2008, the allowance for loan losses was $8.89 million, 1.05% of total loans and 76% of non-performing loans, compared to the December 31, 2007 balance of $8.00 million, 1.09% of total loans and 87% of non-performing loans. Net charge-offs for 2008 totaled $564 thousand, compared to net charge-offs of $81 thousand for 2007. One loan accounted for almost all of the charge-offs during 2008, this loan was fully reserved at the end of 2007. Merchants had $803 thousand in OREO at December 31, 2008, and $475 thousand at December 31, 2007. Nonperforming assets as a percentage of total assets were 0.93% at December 31, 2008, compared to 0.83% at December 31, 2007. Merchants' noninterest income decreased by $686 thousand to $8.66 million for 2008 compared to 2007 and by $805 thousand to $1.82 million for the fourth quarter of 2008 compared to the same period in 2007. As mentioned previously, Merchants recorded a $369 thousand other than temporary impairment charge related to one of its investment securities during the fourth quarter. Additionally, Merchants sold an investment in a limited partnership during the fourth quarter of last year and recognized a reduction in equity in losses of real estate limited partnerships of approximately $260 thousand. Excluding all security transactions and the gain just mentioned, noninterest income decreased by $176 thousand to $2.19 million for the fourth quarter of 2008 compared to 2007, and by $236 thousand to $8.95 million year to date. Trust company income has suffered in the current difficult market conditions, decreasing by $110 thousand for the fourth quarter of this year compared to last, and by $126 thousand year to date.Total noninterest expense increased $1.10 million to $9.24 million for the fourth quarter of 2008 compared to 2007, and $2.81 million to $35.10 million year to date. Salaries and employee benefits increased $899 thousand to $4.88 million for the fourth quarter of this year compared to 2007, and $1.97 million to $17.60 million year to date. This increase is primarily a result of additional staff that we have hired in the corporate banking, executive and trust areas during 2008, as well as increases in health insurance costs. Merchants also announced the extension, through January 2010, of its stock buyback program, originally adopted in January 2007. Under the program Merchants may repurchase 200,000 shares of its common stock on the open market from time to time, and had purchased 143,475 shares through December 31, 2008. Although Merchants did not repurchase any of its shares during the fourth quarter of 2008, and does not expect to repurchase shares in the near future, Merchants wanted to preserve the flexibility of an active buyback program.Mr. Michael Tuttle, Merchants' President and Chief Executive Officer; and Ms. Janet Spitler, Merchants' Chief Financial Officer, will host a conference call to discuss these earnings results at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time on Friday, January 30, 2009. Interested parties may participate in the conference call by dialing (888) 423-3273; the title of the call is Earnings Release Conference Call for Merchants Bancshares, Inc. Participants are asked to call a few minutes prior to register. A replay will be available until noon on Friday, February 6, 2009. The U.S. replay dial-in telephone number is (800) 475-6701. The international replay telephone number is (320) 365-3844. The replay access code for both replay telephone numbers is 967736.The continuing mission of Merchants Bank is to provide Vermonters with a statewide community bank that blends a strong technology platform with a genuine appreciation for local markets. Merchants Bank fulfills this commitment through a branch-based system that includes 34 community bank offices and 42 ATMs throughout Vermont, Personal Bankers dedicated to top-quality customer service and streamlined solutions, including: Personal Checking and Savings with Free Checking for Life(R), Cash Rewards Checking, a low-cost Money Market Account, Free Online Banking and Bill Pay, Overdraft Coverage, Direct Deposit, Free Debit Card, and Free Automated Phone Banking; Business Banking with Rewards Checking for Business, Business Online Banking and Bill Pay, Business Lines of Credit and Merchant Card Processing; Small Business Loans; Health Savings Accounts; Credit Cards; Flexible Certificates of Deposit; Vehicle Loans; Home Equity Credit; and Home Mortgages. Visit mbvt.com for more information. Merchants' stock is traded on the NASDAQ National Market system under the symbol MBVT. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.Some of the statements contained in this press release constitute forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements relate to expectations, beliefs, projections, future plans and strategies, anticipated events or trends and similar expressions concerning matters that are not historical facts. The forward-looking statements reflect Merchants' current views about future events and are subject to risks, uncertainties, assumptions and changes in circumstances that may cause Merchants' actual results to differ significantly from those expressed in any forward-looking statement. Forward-looking statements should not be relied on since they involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors that are, in some cases, beyond Merchants' control and which could materially affect actual results. The factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from current expectations include changes in general economic conditions in Vermont, changes in interest rates, changes in competitive product and pricing pressures among financial institutions within Merchants' markets, and changes in the financial condition of Merchants' borrowers. The forward-looking statements contained herein represent Merchants' judgment as of the date of this report, and Merchants cautions readers not to place undue reliance on such statements. For further information, please refer to Merchants' reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Merchants Bancshares, Inc.                         Financial Highlights (unaudited)                  (In thousands except share and per share data)                               12/31/08    09/30/08    12/31/07    09/30/07                               --------    --------    --------    --------    Balance Sheets -     Period End    Total assets              $1,341,210  $1,317,312  $1,170,743  $1,116,079    Loans                        847,127     814,598     731,508     739,175    Allowance for loan     losses ("ALL")                8,894       8,367       8,002       7,726    Net loans                    838,233     806,231     723,506     731,449    Securities available for     sale                        429,872     436,021     361,512     298,338    Securities held to     maturity                      1,737       3,174       4,078       4,395    Federal funds sold and     other short-term     investments                     111         111      20,100      15,500    Other assets                  71,257      71,775      61,547      66,397    Deposits                     930,797     949,521     867,437     866,948    Securities sold under     agreement to repurchase     and other short-term     debt                        124,408      89,298      98,917      84,484    Securities sold under     agreement to     repurchase, long-term        54,000      54,000      41,500      20,000    Other long-term debt         118,643     117,758      62,117      44,586    Junior subordinated     debentures issued to     unconsolidated     subsidiary trust             20,619      20,619      20,619      20,619    Other liabilities             14,847       9,295       4,846       7,435    Shareholders' equity          77,896      76,821      75,307      72,007    Balance Sheets -     Quarter-to-Date Averages    Total assets              $1,320,845  $1,307,023  $1,169,811  $1,113,404    Loans                        825,395     800,126     730,688     727,159    Allowance for loan losses      8,596       8,509       7,840       7,217    Net loans                    816,799     791,617     722,848     719,942    Securities available for     sale and FHLB stock         428,307     446,688     340,598     298,195    Securities held to     maturity                      2,187       2,909       4,247       5,424    Federal funds sold and     other short-term     investments                   2,420       5,664      38,227      26,389    Other assets                  71,132      60,145      63,891      63,454    Deposits                     946,534     947,674     874,406     871,969    Securities sold under     agreement to repurchase     and other short-term     debt                         96,736      82,794      94,785      80,579    Securities sold under     agreement to repurchase,     long-term                    54,000      72,913      35,646      20,000    Other long-term debt         117,996      99,355      60,811      44,843    Junior subordinated     debentures issued to     unconsolidated     subsidiary trust             20,619      20,619      20,619      20,619    Other liabilities              9,845       9,979      10,780       5,458    Shareholders' equity          75,115      73,689      72,764      69,936    Interest earning assets    1,266,714   1,255,387   1,113,760   1,057,167    Interest bearing     liabilities               1,110,612   1,100,447     958,669     913,927    Ratios and Supplemental     Information - Period End    Book value per share          $13.58      $13.40      $13.05      $12.43    Book value per share (1)      $12.85      $12.70      $12.35      $11.78    Tier I leverage ratio           7.28%       7.50%       8.14%       8.45%    Tangible capital ratio          5.81%       5.83%       6.42%       6.44%    Period end common shares     outstanding (1)           6,061,182   6,049,720   6,096,737   6,113,818    Credit Quality -     Period End    Nonperforming loans     ("NPLs")                    $11,643     $11,594      $9,231      $9,934    Nonperforming assets     ("NPAs")                    $12,446     $11,594      $9,706      $9,934    NPLs as a percent of     total loans                    1.37%       1.42%       1.26%       1.34%    NPAs as a percent of     total assets                   0.93%       0.88%       0.83%       0.89%    ALL as a percent of NPLs          76%         72%         87%         78%    ALL as a percent of     total loans                    1.05%       1.03%       1.09%       1.05%    (1) This book value and period end common shares outstanding includes        323,754; 317,161; 325,789; and 321,753; Rabbi Trust shares for        the periods noted above, respectively.                            Merchants Bancshares, Inc.                         Financial Highlights (unaudited)                  (In thousands except share and per share data)                                          December 31,          December 31,                                        2008       2007       2008       2007                                        ----       ----       ----       ----    Operating Results    Interest income    Interest and fees on loans       $11,797    $11,987    $46,611    $47,269    Interest and dividends on     investments                       5,777      4,577     21,971     17,330    Total interest and dividend     income                           17,574     16,564     68,582     64,599    Interest expense    Deposits                           3,386      4,551     16,246     17,960    Short-term borrowings                277        900      1,686      3,503    Long-term debt                     1,812      1,485      6,997      4,923    Total interest expense             5,475      6,936     24,929     26,386    Net interest income               12,099      9,628     43,653     38,213    Provision for credit losses          600        300      1,525      1,150    Net interest income after     provision for credit losses      11,499      9,328     42,128     37,063    Noninterest income    Trust Company income                 396        506      1,831      1,957    Service charges on deposits        1,436      1,461      5,437      5,474    Loss on investment securities       (369)        --       (287)       (97)    Equity in losses of real     estate limited partnerships,     net                                (462)      (217)    (1,849)    (1,484)    Other noninterest income             823        879      3,526      3,494    Total noninterest income           1,824      2,629      8,658      9,344    Noninterest expense    Salaries, wages and employee     benefits                          4,875      3,976     17,603     15,632    Occupancy and equipment     expenses                          1,557      1,518      6,082      6,013    Legal and professional fees          541        653      2,449      2,411    Marketing expenses                   314        298      1,652      1,199    State franchise taxes                263        259      1,066        992    Other noninterest expense          1,694      1,444      6,249      6,041    Total noninterest expense          9,244      8,148     35,101     32,288    Income before provision for     income taxes                      4,079      3,809     15,685     14,119    Provision for income taxes         1,015        893      3,768      3,261    Net income                        $3,064     $2,916    $11,917    $10,858    Ratios and Supplemental     Information    Weighted average common     shares outstanding            6,058,922  6,112,689  6,069,653  6,148,494    Weighted average diluted     shares outstanding            6,063,815  6,127,279  6,079,274  6,164,441    Basic earnings per common     share                             $0.51      $0.48      $1.96      $1.77    Diluted earnings per common     share                              0.51       0.48       1.96       1.76    Return on average assets            0.93%      1.00%      0.93%      0.96%    Return on average     shareholders' equity              16.32%     16.03%     15.83%     15.37%    Net interest rate spread            3.56%      3.04%      3.30%      3.18%    Net interest margin                 3.81%      3.44%      3.58%      3.56%    Efficiency ratio (1)               60.75%     62.29%     62.27%     62.45%    (1) The efficiency ratio excludes amortization of intangibles, equity in        losses of real estate limited partnerships, OREO expenses, gain/loss        on sales of securities, state franchise taxes, and any significant        nonrecurring items.    Note: As of December 31, 2008, the Bank had off-balance sheet liabilities          in the form of standby letters of credit to customers in the amount          of $3.90 million.                           Merchants Bancshares, Inc.                        Financial Highlights (unaudited)                 (In thousands except share and per share data)                                                            For the Twelve                                                             Months Ended                                                             December 31,                                                            2008       2007                                                            ----       ----    Balance Sheets - Year to-Date Averages    Total assets                                      $1,277,242 $1,131,588    Loans                                                781,645    713,119    Allowance for loan losses                              8,415      7,275    Net loans                                            773,230    705,844    Securities available for sale and FHLB stock         425,038    320,733    Securities held to maturity                            3,160      5,127    Federal funds sold and other short-term     investments                                          10,551     36,388    Other assets                                          65,263     63,496    Deposits                                             923,863    873,674    Securities sold under agreement to repurchase and     other short-term debt                                89,382     85,041    Securities sold under agreement to repurchase,     long-term                                            62,046     23,944    Other long-term debt                                  93,753     50,719    Junior subordinated debentures issued to     unconsolidated subsidiary trust                      20,619     20,619    Other liabilities                                     12,276      6,930    Shareholders' equity                                  75,303     70,661    Interest earning assets                            1,220,394  1,075,367    Interest bearing liabilities                       1,070,181    931,588
Merchants' investment portfolio increased to $431.61 million at December 31, 2008 from $365.59 million at December 31, 2007, an 18% increase. Investments purchased during the last year have consisted exclusively of government agency mortgage-backed securities. With the exception of one AA-rated security, all securities in Merchants' investment portfolio were either Agency guaranteed or rated AAA at December 31, 2008. Merchants wrote the AA-rated security down to its estimated fair value during the fourth quarter of 2008 and recorded a pre-tax other than temporary impairment charge of $369 thousand. Deposits ended 2008 at $930.80 million, a $63.36, or 7% increase over 2007 ending balances. Quarterly average deposits were $946.53 million, a $72.13 million, or 8%, increase over the fourth quarter of last year. Time deposits were the fastest growing category of deposits during 2008, increasing 16% during 2008 to $385.12 million from $332.77 million at year end 2007. Time deposits represented 41% of Merchants' total deposits at December 31, 2008, compared to 38% of total deposits at December 31, 2007.Merchants recorded a $600 thousand provision for credit losses during the fourth quarter of 2008 and $1.53 million year-to-date, compared to a $300 thousand provision for credit losses during the fourth quarter of 2007, and $1.15 million for 2007. The increase in the provision for 2008 was primarily a result of strong loan growth during 2008, as well as increased nonperforming loans and net charge-offs during the year. Nonperforming loans ended the year at $11.64 million, compared to $9.23 million at December 31, 2007. Nonaccruing loan totals at December 31, 2008 were flat compared to September 30 of this year, as reductions, and transfers to Other Real Estate Owned ("OREO"), of existing accounts totaling approximately $1.7 million were matched by equal amounts of additions during the quarter. Tuttle commented, "We continue to make good progress on reducing existing non-accrual loans, but expect to see some of this offset by additions in the current economic environment." At December 31, 2008, the allowance for loan losses was $8.89 million, 1.05% of total loans and 76% of non-performing loans, compared to the December 31, 2007 balance of $8.00 million, 1.09% of total loans and 87% of non-performing loans. Net charge-offs for 2008 totaled $564 thousand, compared to net charge-offs of $81 thousand for 2007. One loan accounted for almost all of the charge-offs during 2008, this loan was fully reserved at the end of 2007. Merchants had $803 thousand in OREO at December 31, 2008, and $475 thousand at December 31, 2007. Nonperforming assets as a percentage of total assets were 0.93% at December 31, 2008, compared to 0.83% at December 31, 2007. Merchants' noninterest income decreased by $686 thousand to $8.66 million for 2008 compared to 2007 and by $805 thousand to $1.82 million for the fourth quarter of 2008 compared to the same period in 2007. As mentioned previously, Merchants recorded a $369 thousand other than temporary impairment charge related to one of its investment securities during the fourth quarter. Additionally, Merchants sold an investment in a limited partnership during the fourth quarter of last year and recognized a reduction in equity in losses of real estate limited partnerships of approximately $260 thousand. Excluding all security transactions and the gain just mentioned, noninterest income decreased by $176 thousand to $2.19 million for the fourth quarter of 2008 compared to 2007, and by $236 thousand to $8.95 million year to date. Trust company income has suffered in the current difficult market conditions, decreasing by $110 thousand for the fourth quarter of this year compared to last, and by $126 thousand year to date.Total noninterest expense increased $1.10 million to $9.24 million for the fourth quarter of 2008 compared to 2007, and $2.81 million to $35.10 million year to date. Salaries and employee benefits increased $899 thousand to $4.88 million for the fourth quarter of this year compared to 2007, and $1.97 million to $17.60 million year to date. This increase is primarily a result of additional staff that we have hired in the corporate banking, executive and trust areas during 2008, as well as increases in health insurance costs. Merchants also announced the extension, through January 2010, of its stock buyback program, originally adopted in January 2007. Under the program Merchants may repurchase 200,000 shares of its common stock on the open market from time to time, and had purchased 143,475 shares through December 31, 2008. Although Merchants did not repurchase any of its shares during the fourth quarter of 2008, and does not expect to repurchase shares in the near future, Merchants wanted to preserve the flexibility of an active buyback program.Mr. Michael Tuttle, Merchants' President and Chief Executive Officer; and Ms. Janet Spitler, Merchants' Chief Financial Officer, will host a conference call to discuss these earnings results at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time on Friday, January 30, 2009. Interested parties may participate in the conference call by dialing (888) 423-3273; the title of the call is Earnings Release Conference Call for Merchants Bancshares, Inc. Participants are asked to call a few minutes prior to register. A replay will be available until noon on Friday, February 6, 2009. The U.S. replay dial-in telephone number is (800) 475-6701. The international replay telephone number is (320) 365-3844. The replay access code for both replay telephone numbers is 967736.The continuing mission of Merchants Bank is to provide Vermonters with a statewide community bank that blends a strong technology platform with a genuine appreciation for local markets. Merchants Bank fulfills this commitment through a branch-based system that includes 34 community bank offices and 42 ATMs throughout Vermont, Personal Bankers dedicated to top-quality customer service and streamlined solutions, including: Personal Checking and Savings with Free Checking for Life(R), Cash Rewards Checking, a low-cost Money Market Account, Free Online Banking and Bill Pay, Overdraft Coverage, Direct Deposit, Free Debit Card, and Free Automated Phone Banking; Business Banking with Rewards Checking for Business, Business Online Banking and Bill Pay, Business Lines of Credit and Merchant Card Processing; Small Business Loans; Health Savings Accounts; Credit Cards; Flexible Certificates of Deposit; Vehicle Loans; Home Equity Credit; and Home Mortgages. Visit mbvt.com for more information. Merchants' stock is traded on the NASDAQ National Market system under the symbol MBVT. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.Some of the statements contained in this press release constitute forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements relate to expectations, beliefs, projections, future plans and strategies, anticipated events or trends and similar expressions concerning matters that are not historical facts. The forward-looking statements reflect Merchants' current views about future events and are subject to risks, uncertainties, assumptions and changes in circumstances that may cause Merchants' actual results to differ significantly from those expressed in any forward-looking statement. Forward-looking statements should not be relied on since they involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors that are, in some cases, beyond Merchants' control and which could materially affect actual results. The factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from current expectations include changes in general economic conditions in Vermont, changes in interest rates, changes in competitive product and pricing pressures among financial institutions within Merchants' markets, and changes in the financial condition of Merchants' borrowers. The forward-looking statements contained herein represent Merchants' judgment as of the date of this report, and Merchants cautions readers not to place undue reliance on such statements. For further information, please refer to Merchants' reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Source: PRNewsWire

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