More than 90 percent of First Niagara Financial Group’s stock is held by so-called institutional investors, such as mutual funds and pensions, putting the destiny of the Buffalo-based bank squarely in the hands of distant shareholders who are more interested in the stock price and dividends than in how the company does business locally.
The institutional ownership of Buffalo’s No. 2 bank shows how little influence individual shareholders have over the bank, which employs several thousand people in Western New York. Any role, if any, those institution investors played in the decision Tuesday by the bank’s 10-member board to sever ties with President and CEO John R. Koelmel after his seven years at the helm, is not clear.
According to the latest data from Bloomberg, more than 90.7 percent of First Niagara’s 352.6 million shares are held by investment companies, hedge funds, mutual or pension funds, banks, insurers and other corporations. In all, there are 408 shareholders among those investors.
Investment advising companies hold 86.9 percent of First Niagara’s stock on behalf of their clients. Hedge funds, which are sophisticated investment funds for high-net-worth clients, hold 5.25 percent, followed by mutual or pension funds, banks and insurers.
Nearly 93 percent of the shares are held by investors in the United States, followed by 1.65 percent in the Netherlands and 1.47 percent in Great Britain.
The top owners are New York-based BlackRock Inc., with 28.4 million shares, or 8.05 percent of the total, followed by Janus Capital Management of Denver, with 18.56 million shares, or 5.3 percent, and Malvern, Pa.-based Vanguard Group, with 18.49 million shares, or 5.2 percent.
By contrast, only about 1 percent of the stock is held by individuals, mostly by 27 company “insiders” who include directors and executives.
According to First Niagara’s proxy statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the 20 directors and officers hold just 1.31 percent of the bank’s stock, or 4.65 million shares.
Of those, the biggest individual stockholder is Koelmel himself, with 1.1 million shares. He’s followed by Carl A. Florio of Albany, with 787,151 shares, and Nathaniel D. Woodson of South Carolina, with 433,854 shares. After Koelmel departed, the board named Woodson to lead its search committee for a new permanent CEO.
Florio was president and CEO of Hudson River Bancorp, which First Niagara acquired in 2005, while Woodson was a director of NewAlliance Bancshares in New Haven, Conn. First Niagara bought NewAlliance in 2011, just months before it announced its purchase of 195 HSBC Bank USA branches. That purchase, as well as the bank’s rapid growth overall in the last four years, has been blamed for causing the bank’s stock woes and investor unhappiness.
Both Florio and Woodson received First Niagara stock in their respective bank deals, as did former NewAlliance directors Roxanne J. Coady and Carlton L. Highsmith, also now on First Niagara’s board. And Chairman G. Thomas Bowers, former chairman, president and CEO of Finger Lakes Bancorp, also owns stock from his bank’s sale to First Niagara in 2003.