GOLDEN WEST FINANCIAL CORP. $67 (New York symbol GDW; WSSF Rating: Average) operates over 500 retail branches in 38 states under the “World Savings & Loan” banner. Residential mortgages represent 90% of its loan portfolio.
Golden West specializes in adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs), whose interest rates move up and down with the Federal Reserve’s benchmark rate. Many first-time homebuyers prefer ARMs, since the initial interest rate is usually less than a fixed-rate mortgage. Golden West likes them since the interest it receives on its loans varies with the interest it has to pay out to depositors.
Although interest rates are still moving up, Golden West’s loan volumes continue to rise, although at a slower pace. That helped the company earn $1.22 a share (total $382.2 million) in the three months ended September 30, 2005, up 16.2% from $1.05 a share ($324.8 million) a year earlier.
When interest rates are rising, Golden West prefers to hold off on raising deposit rates, even if it attracts fewer depositors. This policy cut its retail savings deposits in the most recent quarter by $797 million, compared with a $3.1 billion increase a year earlier. But it should improve its long-term earnings growth.
The company’s focus on ARMs, which are historically safer than other loans, also raises the quality of its loan portfolio. Bad loans in the third quarter fell to 0.28% of total assets from 0.35% a year earlier.
The stock has jumped four-fold in the past five years, but still trades at just 14.2 times its 2005 earnings forecast of $4.73 a share. It recently raised its quarterly dividend 33.3%, from $0.06 a share to $0.08. The new annual rate of $0.32 yields 0.5%.
Golden West is a buy.