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Hovde Group upgrades Community Bank System to 'outperform'

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Hovde Group upgrades Community Bank System to 'outperform'

Upgrade

* Joseph Fenech of Hovde Group raised Community Bank System Inc.'s stock rating to "outperform" from "market perform." The analyst kept the price target for the De Witt, N.Y.-based company's stock at $58.

The analyst noted the bank's high-quality, low-cost deposit franchise and "extraordinarily low credit risk profile." After attending investor meetings, Fenech wrote that Community Bank System's management noted an all-in cost of deposits of 10 basis points in 2017, unchanged from the previous year.

Fenech also noted the pressure on funding costs intensifying in the recent months, particularly from municipal and large commercial accounts, mainly caused by market interest rates. They also noted that recent tax savings from a lower corporate tax rate could lead competitors to increase their deposit rates.

* David Long of Raymond James upgraded First Midwest Bancorp Inc.'s stock rating to "outperform" from "market perform" and set the price target at $27.50.

The analyst wrote that First Midwest is a "solid growth-oriented bank in the Chicagoland area that can grow organically and through disciplined acquisitions." The upgrade coincides with a transfer of coverage to Long.

Initiations

* Compass Point's Laurie Havener Hunsicker is now covering Fair Lawn, N.J.-based Columbia Financial Inc. (MHC)'s stock. She gave it a "buy" rating and a price target of $15.

The analyst introduced Columbia Financial's operating EPS estimates for the years ending September 2018 and September 2019 at 44 cents per share and 49 cents per share, respectively. Hunsicker also estimated a first-step IPO closing for Columbia Financial at the super-maximum of the range.

* Brett Rabatin of Piper Jaffray initiated coverage of Houston-based Cadence Bancorp.

The analysts wrote that Cadence's valuation will improve slightly "as core EPS growth of 12% to 13% exceeds peer levels over the next two years" due to the company's "solid revenue growth and operating leverage," the analyst added. Cadence's loan growth is anticipated to be at 8% to 9% in the next two years, following 11% growth last year, Rabatin noted.

The analyst rated Cadence's stock "overweight" and gave it a price target of $32.

Transferred coverage

* Raymond James also transferred its coverage of Fulton Financial Corp.'s stock, retaining the company's stock rating of "market perform."

Raymond James' Long wrote that Fulton Financial is a "highly asset sensitive bank" that has a history of "strong underwriting standards." However, outstanding regulatory consent orders along with an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice are restricting Fulton Financial's growth, the analyst noted.