Friday, January 20, 2017

Banking Economies of Scale Revisited

In 2011, on these pages, I wrote my most read blog post ever, titled: Does your bank achieve positive operating leverage? Even today, nearly six years later, it receives a material amount of views. Particularly from larger financial institutions.

Economies of scale has eluded our industry in its purist form. For some time, banks between $1B and $10B in total assets tend to wring out the best expense ratios (operating expense/average assets) and efficiency ratios. So economies of scale hucksters walk with this chink in their armor as to why their story-line falters at a certain size.

I also noted in my most recent and in all of my past Top 5 total return posts that community banks deliver superior returns to their larger brethren. So, although there are plenty of consultants and investment bankers with pitch books telling you to get bigger, there are also contrarians such as myself that believe that bigger is not always better. And my pitch book is simply a bunch of spreadsheets. No fancy bubble charts, green light/red light tables, or tombstones. 

In this post I would like to revisit a couple of tables. First, I broke down all commercial banks by asset size to show expense and efficiency ratios as banks became larger. The results are below.

As the table suggests, financial institutions of all sizes reduced their relative operating expenses since 2011, with the only blip being a slight expense ratio increase in the $500MM-$1B commercial bank category. I should note that the efficiency ratio from that sized bank actually went down between 2011-16, suggesting a slightly better net interest margin.

The economies of scale argument clearly has merit, as you can see from the table. As asset sizes increase, expense and efficiency ratios tend to decrease. With that pesky exception of financial institutions between $5B-$10B in assets. These are averages. So there are exceptions. And I have often spoken about there being a significant number of exceptions to the economies of scale bromide. 

One example is German American Bank, highlighted in American Banker's Community Banker of the Year issue, and on this blog. It is a $3B bank with a 55% efficiency ratio. Open Bank in Los Angeles is a $722 million bank with a 58% efficiency ratio. I didn't have to research small efficient banks. They rolled off my tongue. Actually, my fingertips.

The below table was taken from my firm's profitability outsourcing database. We do the cost accounting for dozens of financial institutions that includes calculating operating cost per product account. Did costs go down at this granular level as assets grew?

Obviously, no. But why? If assets grew, and the bankwide expense and efficiency ratio has generally declined as banks grew, how did these costs go up? It is a fully absorbed cost system, so all costs within the bank are allocated to products and services.

My theory is this. Average balances per account have been growing since the low end of the yield curve has hovered near zero, and today is below 1%. The cost to originate and maintain a $100,000 money market account is nearly identical to originating and maintaining a $50,000 money market account. The growing average balance per account phenomenon has been occurring in most bank products. So, bankwide, costs would appear to go down because denominators, average assets in the expense ratio and total revenue in the efficiency ratio, are going up with the average balance per account.

Number of accounts, however, have not been increasing at nearly the same pace as the balance sheet, if at all. So all of those resources at your financial institution designed to grow new account relationships have not been efficiently utilized. 

In other words, in account originations, financial institutions are generally, and on average, over capacity. 

Financial institutions have tried to reduce this capacity in branches by consolidation and staff reduction. That is why you don't see material increases in cost per account in deposit categories. 

But either through expense reduction or new account acquisition, there is more left to do.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Are Bankers At the Intersection of These Three Traits?

Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, penned a post titled The Three Qualities of People I Most Enjoy Working With that was based on a Venn diagram (see below) he had previously posted. The diagram had 20k+ likes and comments on LinkedIn, and 2.2k retweets and favorites on Twitter. 

Does any bank culture produce these qualities? Does yours? There are headwinds. Banking, a slow moving tortoise of an industry until only recently, was not a big thinking industry. With all of the scrutiny, negative press, and regulatory change, I don't experience many bankers having fun, either.

What I do see at good performing financial institutions is the get sh*t done attitude. But even that is inconsistent. Impeding this culture is a "no mistakes" culture, or as we used to say in the Navy, "one aww sh*t wipes out 10 atta-boys". So whatever needs to get done goes through unnecessarily long approval chains to dilute accountability in case something goes wrong. And by wrong, I'm not talking something big, such as a regulatory order, or big losses. I'm talking about the possibility of an audit finding being enough to kill a get sh*t done culture.

A culture with all three would indeed be unique. And I'm confident there are financial institutions that have all three. I would like to hear from you about your bank, or one that you know, that has these three in their DNA.

Here are a couple of financial institutions that possess these traits.

Dream Big

In the fourth quarter of 2010, an investor group recapitalized a $66 million in assets financial institution, that was breaking even, and had less than $6 million in capital. The investors changed the management team, moved the headquarters, and dreamed big. Today, First Commerce Bank, in Lakewood, New Jersey, has $826 million in assets, $101 million in equity after a recent capital raise, and delivers a 1.56% ROA and a 17%+ ROE. By every financial metric this bank has been a success. The secret: Work Hard, Dream Big. My words, but not dissimilar to the words I've heard their CEO, Herb Schneider, say.

Get Sh*t Done

In my firm's most recent podcast, Tony Labozzetta, CEO of Sussex Bank, described how his team engineered a simultaneous turnaround, growth, and profitability story. When Tony's team was forming in the first quarter 2010, the bank had $452 million of assets, was barely making money, and over 5% of its loan portfolio was non-performing. Rather than hunker down and work through their troubles, they assigned bankers to work through them, and built a wall around them so the rest of their team could focus on that other thing... running and growing a profitable bank. Asset growth has been 12%, 15%, and 27% (year-to-date September 30th) the last three years respectively, the ROA was 0.72%, and non-performing loans to total loans was less than 1%. I'd say they got sh*t done. And they're still doing it.

Know How to Have Fun

A bank that knows how to have fun is difficult to pinpoint, although I'm confident there are some. With so many financial institutions tense about their next exam due to regulators' often times capricious interpretation of the implementation of regulations and law, how can bankers channel this tension into experimentation, technology adoption, and yes, fun. I think fun can be had. Here are a few things I think would work in creating an atmosphere ripe for employees having fun. 

1. Embrace mistakes as opportunities to learn. So long as the mistakes aren't of the "bet the bank" variety. 

2. Highlight and reward successes. Do so publicly, in the company newsletter, or an awards ceremony, etc. So often the positive to negative feedback ratio is way out of whack. Catch people doing something right. And train your supervisors to do the same.

3. Fire people. That's right, I'm suggesting firing people in creating a fun culture. Because nothing kills a fun culture than those sergeants in your bank that criticize far more than compliment, have zero tolerance for mistakes, and thwart efforts to move your bank forward. Get rid of them. The employees that remain will silently cheer. 

4. Start at the top. CEOs and executives could smile more, lighten up a meeting, pat people on the back, say thank you, etc. Your team is more likely to have fun if most signs they see from you is that you are having fun.

Tell me, what bank culture has all three?

~ Jeff

Friday, December 23, 2016

Three Wishes for Bankers

If I had a genie in a bottle that granted me three wishes, I would shoot for grander goals such as world peace, end poverty, and ban Mariah Carey Christmas songs. But this is a bankers' blog, and I want to remain topical.

Most readers are accustomed to me being analytical. Searching for trends and truths in a sea of numbers. And it is true, that numbers weave a tale that should be told. But in this post, I would like to rub the bottle, unleash the genie, and go for three grand wishes for banking.

Wish 1: Banks and Credit Unions - Can We All Get Along?

I believe in compassionate capitalism. In an evolved capitalist society, in my opinion, those "do-ers" would maximize their abilities and their legal/ethical earning power, and give their excess to worthy societal goals. Altruism? Sure. There will be those capitalists that buy gold toilet seats or hold lavish spousal birthday parties on Sardinia to prove they are in love. But let's focus on the good, shall we?

According to a 2015 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, seven percent of US households were unbanked, meaning they had no account at an insured financial institution, and 19% were underbanked, meaning they used non-traditional financial providers like pre-paid cards and/or payday lenders. This is a significant percentage of the populace, and ripe pickings for credit unions, that tend to have better success profitably banking these customers than do banks. 

For example, in my firm's profitability measurement service for community financial institutions, credit unions make 80-90 basis points pre-tax profit on consumer loans, while banks make an anemic 5-10 basis points. And banks' have an average consumer loan account balance of over $40,000, whereas credit unions are around $14,000. 

Credit unions tend to deliver profits on smaller balance accounts. Accounts, dare I say, that bankers are happy to yield to them because they are not well suited to serve those customers.

But the tax thing. Bankers' can't get over it. And with NCUA loosening their definition of who can join credit unions, you can see the point.

So here's my idea: Collaboration in a market between a bank and credit union to cure some social challenge.  For example, what if Schmidlap National Bank and Pipefitters Local CU teamed up to end poverty in their local market? Schmidlap could commit 10% of their pre-tax profit to contribute to local charities whose specific mission is to end poverty. The CU could commit 20% of pre-tax profit to do the same, creating greater parity on the expense side of the ledger, and uniting the one-time foes to make their communities better.

I know one Midwest bank CEO that will disagree. How about you?

Wish 2: Simplify

In every executive meeting, every operations manager meeting, every sales meeting, I wish bankers would ask "how can we simplify?". Simplify their processes, their systems, and for their customers.

We have enough complexity in the world. I spent half a day trying to get my Mom's iPad to interface with Alexa. I was so successful that Alexa gave us the time and the weather, and nothing else. My Mom had to enlist the support of the Geek Squad.

There is enough complexity in everyone's lives. Internally, we have been over-reacting to interpretations of regulation, hyper-complying to avoid an audit finding or, shudder, a matter requiring attention (MRA) on our exam. Externally we have been doing the same to customers. 

Finances, either personal or business, are more complex today than at any time in my life. And quite possibly, in anyone's life. Technologies that have been making finances easier are growing at a rapid rate. I believe customers want to interact with humans about their finances. But we can't heap all this complexity on them and expect them to reject easy to use tech solutions.

Financial institutions that come out on top will be the ones that figure out how to simplify their processes, their infrastructure, and their customers' financial lives.

Goal 3: Automate and Elevate

I did a back of the envelope estimate that a $1 billion in asset financial institution might have 240-250 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees. I also estimate that less than half of them would be customer facing.

The investment financial institutions make in support center functions that scream for automation is not sustainable into the future. In a prior post, I made one slam dunk prediction that robotics was coming. Repetitive tasks will be increasingly performed by an application or a robot. Reconciling the suspense account now done by an accounting clerk? An app. Five point checks on personal check capture images now done by a clerk in Deposit Ops? A robot. 

This will make available significant resources to invest in employees to perform higher level tasks either in support or the front line. How often do I hear executives hope their branch employees would elevate from efficient transaction processing to customer service and advice? Often. How often do senior lenders exhort their lenders to be relationship focused and not solely deal guys/gals? Regularly. And how often do I hear frontline staff wish that support staff would find creative ways to get things done instead of erect road blocks? Every performance improvement engagement team I have ever been on.

So, for financial institutions, always look for ways to reduce paper, automate repetitive processes, and invest greater resources into delivering the financial institution your customers deserve.

Those are my three wishes for bankers. What are yours?

Happy Holidays everyone!

~ Jeff

Monday, December 12, 2016

Banking's Total Return Top 5: 2016 Edition

For the past five years I searched for the Top 5 financial institutions in five-year total return to shareholders because I grew weary of the persistent "get big or get out" mentality of many bankers and industry pundits. If their platitudes about scale and all that goes with it are correct, then the largest FIs should logically demonstrate better shareholder returns. Right?

Not so over the five years I have been keeping track.

My method was to search for the best banks based on total return to shareholders over the past five years. I chose five years because banks that focus on year over year returns tend to cut strategic investments come budget time, which hurts their market position, earnings power, and future relevance than those that make those investments.

Total return includes two components: capital appreciation and dividends. However, to exclude trading inefficiencies associated with illiquidity, I filtered for those FIs that trade over 1,000 shares per day. This, naturally, eliminated many of the smaller, illiquid FIs. I also filtered for anomalies that result from recent mutual-to-stock conversions and penny stocks. 

Before we begin and for comparison purposes, here are last year's top five, as measured in December 2015:

#1.  Independent Bank Corporation (Nasdaq: IBCP)
#2.  Fentura Financial, Inc. (OTCQX: FETM)
#4.  Carolina Bank Holdings, Inc. (Nasdaq: CLBH)
#5.  Coastal Banking Company, Inc. (OTCQX: CBCO)

Here is this year's list:

Independent Bank Corporation celebrates its second straight Top 5 recognition, and BNCCORP celebrates its third straight year on this august list. Congratulations to them. A summary of the banks, their stories, and links to their website are below. 

#1. Independent Bank Corporation (Nasdaq: IBCP)

Independent Bank dates back to 1864 as the First National Bank of Iona. Its size today, at $2.5 billion in assets, is smaller than it was a decade ago. It is a turnaround story because the bank was hammered with credit problems between 2008-11, when it lost over $200 million. In 2011, at the height of its problems, non-performing assets/assets was nine percent. Today that number is 3.6%. Exclude performing restructured loans, and that number plummets to 0.62%. The result: those investors that jumped onboard at the end of 2011 were well rewarded. Their total return was greater than 1,500%. You read it right.

#2. Waterstone Financial, Inc. (Nasdaq: WSBF)

Waterstone is a single-bank holding company headquartered in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. It has $1.8 billion of assets and operates eleven branches in the metropolitan Milwaukee market, a loan production office (LPO) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and 45 mortgage banking offices in 21 states. The mortgage bank has more than 3x the employees of the bank. Year-to-date, the company has generated more fee income, at $95.2 million, than it has in operating expense, at $95.0 million. I don't know any other bank that accomplished this. I'm sure there are some. But I haven't heard the tale. This tale is true. That means their year-to-date $31.8 million net interest income after provision... is gravy. And that is a key reason why their five-year total return exceeded 1,000%!

#3. Summit Financial Group, Inc. (Nasdaq: SMMF)

Summit Financial Group, Inc. is a $1.7 billion in asset company headquartered in West Virginia, providing community banking services primarily in the Eastern Panhandle and South Central regions of the state, and the Northern and Shenandoah Valley regions of Virginia. Summit also operates an insurance subsidiary. In 2011, the company had net income of $4.1 million on assets of $1.5 billion. Today, the company has annualized net income of $16.8 million. A reversal of fortune from a 0.28% ROA to a 1.09%. How did they do it, from my perspective? 1: Margin expansion, and 2: Expense discipline. Annual operating expenses were $36.6 million in 2011, and are $33.2 million today. And that includes some of the expenses associated with an acquisition that is set to close shortly. So they grew. And spent less to do it. A bank that viewed its operating expenditures as investments. Amazing!

#4. MBT Financial Corp. (Nasdaq: MBTF)

In 1858, while Lincoln and Douglas debated for a US Senate seat, Benjamin Dansard started Dansard State Bank to operate from the back of Dansard General Store. Ultimately renamed Monroe Bank and Trust, this bank pre-dates the Civil War! Similar to IBCP above, MBT is a turnaround story. In 2011, non-performing assets/assets was at 7.7%. Today they are at 1.8%, and below 1% if you exclude restructured yet performing loans. The asset quality issues led to a $3.8 million loss in 2011. Since that time, nothing but black ink, leading to a year-to-date ROA of 1.10%, and ROE of 10.13%. How did they get there? A dramatic improvement in asset quality, a process and efficiency initiative that led to reduced costs and improved processes, and motivation. Insiders own over 22% of the company. That's motivation! Well done!  


BNCCORP, Inc., through its subsidiary BNC National Bank, offers community banking and wealth management services in Arizona, Minnesota, and North Dakota from 16 locations. It also conducts mortgage banking from 12 offices in Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, Arizona, and North Dakota. BNC suffered significant credit woes during 2008-09 which led to material losses in '09-10, and the decline in their tangible book value to $5.09/share at the end of 2010. Growth, supported by the oil boom in North Dakota's Bakken formation, and a robust mortgage banking business, is challenged due to  the decrease in oil and ag commodity prices. But earnings continue to increase in spite of the challenges. This has resulted in a tangible book value per share at September 30th of $22.51... a significant recovery and turnaround story that landed BNC in our top 5 for the third straight year. Your investment five years ago would have resulted in over an 800% total return!

Here's how total return looks for you chart geeks, with the lower green, and flat line being the S&P 500 Bank Index.

There you have it! The JFB all stars in top 5, five-year total return. The largest of the lot is $2.5 billion in total assets. No SIFI banks on the list. Ask your investment banker why this is so.

Congratulations to all of the above that developed a specific strategy and is clearly executing well. Your shareholders have been rewarded!

Are you noticing themes that led to these banks' performance?

~ Jeff

Note: I make no investment recommendations in my blog. Please do not claim to invest in any security based on what you read here. You should make your own decisions in that regard. FINRA makes people take a test to ensure they know what they are doing before recommending securities. I'm sure that strategy works well.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

IMO: American Banker's Community Bankers of the Year

On November 30th, American Banker named three Community Bankers of the Year. When I read about their selections, and reviewed their financial performance, I e-mailed Bonnie McGeer, Executive Editor at American Banker Magazine, to say that, in my opinion, they nailed it!

Not that they need my endorsement. But they did notice when I sniped at one of their past Bankers of the Year awards. Banker of the Year typically goes to larger financial institutions. But I digress.

When I read about Banker of the Year and other such recognition, I will typically look at the financial performance of the bank to see if the award holds water. There are few things more regressive to me than for a banker to receive recognition without accomplishment. It cheapens the award, and diminishes our view of the truly accomplished.

But this year was a bumper crop, I tell ya!

Mark became CEO of GABC in January 1999. So he's been at it a long time. When he got the job, the bank was $637 million in total assets, had an Efficiency Ratio of 62.5%, an ROA of 0.96%, and an ROE of 9.1%. Today the bank has $3.0 billion in total assets, an Efficiency Ratio of 61.2%, and an ROA/ROE of 1.20%/10.7%, respectively. So the bank performed well in 1999, and Mark has improved on it. The bank is a consistent, German-engineered performer. 

As good as those numbers are, Mark's real home run was his total return to shareholders (see chart). From the day Mark assumed the reigns at GABC until today, the SNL Bank Index had a total return of 90%. GABC's was 424%.

Let that sink in a bit.

Credit: I got that "German engineered" quip from GABC's financial advisor.

Kevin's story isn't punctuated by his bank's total return since he became CEO in March 2013, although it did mirror the index. An investor would have enjoyed a 74% total return in HOPE stock during Kevin's tenure, versus 77% for the SNL Bank Index (see chart). 

No, Kevin had an impact from the moment he joined the Board in 2009, first advocating for raising more capital, and negotiating the merger between Hope's predecessor, Center Bancorp and Nara Bancorp, another Korean-American focused bank. The deal closed in 2011, and BBCN was formed. After closing another deal for Wilshire Bancorp, a $4B bank, in the third quarter, Hope became what it is today.

Financial performance is similar to when Kim assumed the reigns in March 2013. Then, the bank had an Efficiency Ratio/ROA/ROE of 45.5%/1.28%/9.13% respectively. Using this year's second quarter to avoid the Wilshire special charges, those numbers were 46.8%/1.20%/9.67%, respectively. 

What impressed me most was the bank's turnaround since Kevin joined the board, the transactions he has negotiated to significantly grow the bank, and the 32% earnings per share increase since he took over. That's right, 32%.

When Tony took the reigns at Sussex Bank in February 2010, non-current loans/loans was 5.48%. Today they are 0.75%.  I should end this section right there. But I'll continue.

The bank had $452 million in total assets. Today it is nearly twice that size. Net income was approximately $1.2 million annualized. Today it's $5.6 million. Efficiency Ratio/ROA/ROE? Was 61%/0.21%/2.80%, respectively. Now: 68%/0.70%/7.79%. And the bank continues in a significant growth mode. 

And due to the bank's historically rural markets, he's #GeoJumping! See my firm's most recent podcast, minute 17:40, for a discussion on geo-jumping. I'm claiming the trademark.

An investor earned a 288% total return since Tony took the reigns, versus 115% for the SNL Bank Index (see chart). I'm one happy investor. Disclosure: I'm personally invested in SBBX.

And there are my reasons why I think American Banker NAILED IT!

What other great banks are out there that didn't win the hardware?

~ Jeff

Note: I make no investment recommendations in my blog. Please do not claim to invest in any security based on what you read here. You should make your own decisions in that regard. FINRA makes people take a test to ensure they know what they are doing before recommending securities. I'm sure that strategy works well.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Are You a Bank With Benefits?

The American Bankers Association (ABA) recently announced a new benefit to assist its employees with repaying student debt. Beginning next month, ABA will provide each eligible employee up to $1,200 per year toward the payment of student debt, in addition to their current compensation. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, only four percent of employers nationwide offer this benefit

Is this an altruistic statement regarding the $1.4 trillion of student debt in America, or a prudent employee benefit targeting recent college graduates that each average $30,000 in student debt?

I recently proposed this topic for my firm's podcast, This Month In Banking, which is released on the last Wednesday of every month. Shot down. Too boring. But hey, I have a blog too! And I think it is an extremely important topic in talent acquisition and retention.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics June 2016 report, salaries, commissions and bonus accounted for 68.6% of total compensation, and benefits accounted for the remaining 31.4%. This is an increase from 29.9% in 2013. So benefits is a large, and increasing proportion of total compensation.

What makes the ABA announcement interesting is: 1) it is a benefit specific for those that carry student debt, meaning mostly millennials, and 2) that they felt they should announce it.

I don't think it is a mystery that bank employees seem to be getting older. And that succession planning in our industry is an issue. Since the financial crisis our industry's brand as a go-to employer has been hurt. And hurt badly. 

How do we attract quality, younger people and then retain them to be the future leaders of our industry? 

What employees value is in the eye of the beholder. Younger workers, for example, value cash on the barrel-head. Less important would be insurance (health or life), and retirement benefits. Not that it is unimportant. According to the Willis Towers Watson Global Benefit Attitudes Survey (What a mouthful! Some marketing person should revisit that title.), only 42% of US respondents said they would opt for more pay/bonus as opposed to other benefits if they had the choice (see chart). So other employees have different priorities.

For younger employees, there are some startups that focus on benefits important to them, such as Gradifi, that focuses on student loan paydown. Imagine the recruitment and retention with this benefit!

But as this benefit becomes less important to employees, perhaps a migration to something more meaningful, such as a greater 401k match, a more robust health plan, or life insurance benefits. Is it practical to earmark certain benefits dollars per full-time employee, and let them select, in menu fashion, what is important to them? For example, the recent college graduate may opt for a student loan paydown benefit, and take a high-deductible HSA health insurance option, rather than the traditional plan.

I think what is clear is that benefits that are important to your employees differ over different times in their life cycle.

Can bankers devise a cost-effective benefits program that recognizes this, would help them attract the best talent, and keep them?

~ Jeff

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What Did a Trump Victory Do To Bank Stocks?

The S&P 500 futures plunged during November 8th's vote count when Donald Trump started pulling ahead. The nosedive gave the news media, who could hardly bare to report good news for Trump, some bad news to deliver. The market was betting a Trump win would be a disaster for equities.

But in a surprise turnaround, the next day when the dust settled and pundits were begrudgingly calling Mr. Trump President-elect, the market turned the tide. Traders were indecisive during the first 90 minutes of trading the next morning, and then came a buying spree that elevated the index to a gain of 1.43%. When things settled down, the final tally for November 9th was a 1.11% gain. So much for that Citi prognostication of an immediate 3%-5% haircut. How much do those analysts get paid?

But what happened with bank stocks? Surely there would be volatility with Trump's carping about over regulation. No industry suffered through more regulation since 2008 than the banking industry, right? And the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, that reports to no one and has carte blanche to regulate institutions over $10 billion in assets, would surely not sit well in a Trump presidency.

Let's take a look. I analyzed the difference in stock prices of all publicly traded financial institutions that trade over 10,000 shares per day on US markets. I used October 31st as the base period, and the closing price on November 9th. Highlights can be found in the table below.

Disaster, averted.

In fact, the biggest loser in the systemically important >$50B category (SIFI) was a Canadian bank. Yes, I know they don't count towards our SIFIs, but still. A little humorous that a Canadian bank would suffer a decline. They are about to receive a significant amount of our celebrities! Looking further up the list for the next worst SIFI, I find National Bank of Canada, then Bank of Montreal. I had to go all the way to Huntington Bancshares to find a US-based SIFI. And they gained 2.9% from Halloween until November 9th!

I should note that three of our clients are in the Top 10 Gainers. I'm not trying to claim causation, just putting it out there.

The average stock price gain of all US publicly traded financial institutions between Halloween and November 9th was 4.2%. There was no catastrophe. No meteoric rise. Just another day at the office.

~ Jeff