First Horizon earnings beat forecasts, rise to highest level since 2018

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / First Horizon Bank, formerly First Tennessee Bank, is seen on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019 in Chattanooga

Tennessee's biggest bank reported better than expected profits Friday with adjusted earnings up last year by nearly 18% from the previous year.

First Horizon Corp., the parent company of what was formerly First Tennessee Bank, said fourth quarter earnings rose to 47 cents per share, or a nickel a share better than the average estimates for the period by analysts surveyed by Zacks. For all of 2019, adjusted earnings for First Horizon totaled $1.66 per share, up from $1.41 per share in 2018.

In response, shares of First Horizon jumped nearly 4.3% Friday to close at $17.27 per share - the highest price for the bank stock since the fall of 2018.

First Horizon, which operates the biggest bank in Chattanooga and in all of Tennessee, ended last year by completing its previously announced merger with IberiaBank, the biggest banking company in Louisiana, and by buying 30 bank branches in North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia from SunTrust Bank.

SunTrust spun off the offices to satisfy regulators about anti-trust concerns before it completed its merger last year with BB&T to create Truist Financial Corp.

"First Horizon had a transformative year and delivered strong performance in 2019," First Horizon CEO Bryan Jordan said in Friday's earnings report. "Our momentum continued into the fourth quarter as we achieved higher returns, improved profitability, balance sheet growth, and stable credit quality."

First Horizon is the biggest bank in Chattanooga with more than $2.4 billion in local deposits. Jay Dale, the market president for First Horizon in Chattanooga, said he expects "another strong year in 2020" after changing the name of the bank from First Tennessee in October.

"In Chattanooga unemployment is at historic lows, consumers are confident, and loan and deposit volume is very healthy," Dale said. "Thanks to the unification of the brand under the First Horizon umbrella, we are hearing great feedback about our signage changing over at the First Horizon Pavilion, and our banking centers soon to follow."

In 2019, First Horizon grew loans by 13%, or more than triple the industry average of 4%, and nearly doubled the size of the bank with its merger with IberiaBank Corp and purchase of the former SunTrust offices.

Average assets in the fourth quarter totaled $42.89 billion, up from $41.94 billion in the previous quarter.

"Fourth quarter 2019 was a culmination of us firing on all cylinders," First Horizon Chief Financial Officer BJ Losch said.