Bank stock crashes 75% after CEO resigns, dividend cut

Britain puts animal fat in its cash
Britain puts animal fat in its cash

Shares in a British subprime bank tanked by as much as 75% in a matter of minutes Tuesday.

Provident Financial, which offers credit cards and loans to people who are normally turned away by traditional banks, issued a statement saying a plan to reorganize a business division had gone awry. Its profitability was in serious doubt.

Making matters worse, another division of the bank is under investigation by a top U.K. financial regulator.

Provident cut its planned dividend payments, and CEO Peter Crook resigned.

All this was simply too much bad news for investors to handle. The London-traded stock experienced a sharp sell off and is currently trading below £6 ($7.70) per share, down from the Monday closing level of £17.45 ($22.37).

The torrid pace of decline may be reminiscent of 2007 and 2008, but this is not the subprime crisis 2.0. It's just one company having a very bad day.

Specifically, Provident Financial said the trouble started when it announced it would change its business model. For years they used thousands of self-employed sales agents to go door-to-door offering loans and collecting loan repayments.

Recently it switched to a full-time staff of about 2,500 equipped with tablet computers to do the work. Those workers have been far worse at getting the job done -- with just a 57% collection rate compared with 90% in 2016. The software that was designed to help them was hindering their performance, leading to a loss that could reach as much as £120 million ($154 million).

On top of that, one of Provident's biggest money-making financial products has come under investigation by the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority.

A division of the bank offered a service that allowed customers to freeze credit card accounts without incurring any interest or needing to make any payments for up to two years. That product has now been suspended pending the FCA investigation.

The FCA declined to provide further details.

All this news, including the CEO's departure and the slashed dividend, sent the stock tumbling. The executive taking over from the outgoing CEO said those were the right moves.

"Protecting the group's capital base through withdrawing the interim dividend and in all likelihood the full-year dividend is the appropriate response," said executive chairwoman, Manjit Wolstenholme.

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Henry Croft, a research analyst at Accendo Markets, predicts other financial firms may consider buying Provident now that its share price has fallen so much, making it a more affordable purchase. However, the FCA investigation may present too many unknown risks to potential bidders.

"Volatility is likely to remain over the course of the next few days as the fate of the business becomes clearer," he said.

This situation is unlike the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008, which began when American banks began having trouble collecting mortgage payments from so-called "subprime" customers. The banks were ultimately too loose in lending to clients, which caused some big players to topple when they were unable to collect mortgage payments and their finances dried up. Millions of Americans received foreclosure notices as the so-called "subprime crisis" spread.

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