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Good day, everyone. Welcome to Western Alliance Bancorp's fourth quarter earnings call. All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. I would now like to turn the call over to Miles Pondelik, director of investor relations and corporate development. Please go ahead. Thank you and welcome to Western Alliance Bank's fourth quarter conference call. Our speakers today are Ken Vecchione, president and chief executive officer; and Dale Gibbons, chief financial officer.
Before I hand the call over to Ken, please note that today's presentation contains forward-looking statements which are subject to risks, uncertainties and assumptions. Except as required by law. The company does not undertake any obligation to update any forward looking statements. For a more complete discussion of the risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from any forward-looking statements.
Please refer to the company's SEC filings, including the Form 8-K filed yesterday, which are available on the company's website. Now for opening remarks, I'd like to turn the call over to Ken Vecchione. Good afternoon everyone. Turning to the fourth quarter results. One of the hallmarks of our national commercial business strategy is the ability to develop niche specialty banking business and to attract qualified talent to thoughtfully scale new business lines with superior risk adjusted returns.
Our loan pipeline and channel checks continue to show a burning of loan growth in our traditional commercial loan businesses. Attracting senior teams to WAL provides the opportunity to establish new business lines that ramp up quickly due to their existing client relationships. I would like to reiterate that AmeriHome is fully integrated into the strategic fabric of Western Alliance and is thoughtfully managed to maximize value for the entire bank through loans, deposit and net interest income growth, not just gain-on-sale launch.
The B2B correspond to business inside of Western Alliance has several business levers which can be repositioned to sustain earnings throughout rate and economic cycles. Given the flexibility of the AmeriHome's business model, ongoing mortgage operations can provide multiple revenue opportunities which serve to offset lower gain-on-sale recognition.
Western Alliance's, branch like, flexible business model provides us a competitive advantage to leverage operating efficiencies to enhance financial results while investing in business initiatives to drive future growth. To put this in perspective, over the last five years, total loans and deposits have grown two and a half times the rate of operating, excluding AmeriHome.
Productivity improvements, provide us with the capability to absorb higher labor costs while continuing to fund products and technology investments. Total adversely graded assets were flat and quarterly net loan charge offs were just two basis points. Western Alliance is one of the most profitable banks in the industry with a return on average assets and return on average tangible common equity of 1.
Finally, what excites me most are the differentiated technology and banking services that Western Alliance is increasingly delivering to our clients to solve unique pain points and facilitate transactions.
We recently announced a partnership with Tassat Group to deliver blockchain-based payments to our clients using their TassatPay platform. Additionally, yesterday, we announced the acquisition of digital disbursements, a leading digital payment platform for the class action legal industry that integrates legal settlement claim process with a multiproduct payment portal.
Our national settlement services business, developed in and launched in , has been described on previous earnings calls as deposit initiative one. Dale will now take you through our financial performance.
Thank you, Ken. Although not annotated on this page, I want to address the characterization of two items in noninterest income. In the fourth quarter, we sold those bonds as they had recovery in value, and the velocity of rate expectations changed.
I know securities gains are often excluded from core analysis, but this seems more like a trading gain to us. I had CECL [inaudible] since before it was born.
I don't think it's remotely helpful to investors in understanding bank financials, and it certainly doesn't improve comparability. But I don't know anyone who is taking CECL-based credit provisions and excluding them from core, which is the same principle here. It doesn't make sense to us that if we increase residential loans in both a day one cumulative loss expectation charge and the next day, we sell a credit-linked note to put that exact same loss expectation to another party that we should be stuck with a debit in core income before the insurance credit for determining earning power.
As Ken noted, in anticipation of margin compression, we are implementing several initiatives to bridge the gain-on-sale earnings slowdown with predictable and stable net interest income revenue streams.
Noninterest expense, excluding merger and restructuring recoveries and loss on extinguishment of debt, increased to modest 1. Turning now to our net interest drivers.
Investment yields increased five basis points from the prior quarter to 2. While on a linked-quarter basis, loan yields declined 25 basis points following continued strong growth in low to no-loss assets such as residential loans and capital call lines and modest yield compression across other loan categories.
We continue to optimize the deployment of excess liquidity into higher-yielding assets and allocated cash yielding 10 basis points [inaudible] loans held for sale yielding 3.
The spot rate for total deposits, which includes noninterest-bearing, was 11 basis points. We expect funding costs to bonds at these levels as rate hikes are forthcoming. Liquidity deployment continues, and cash balances were optimized with cash as a portion of average earning assets of 2. The net interest margin increased 10 basis points to 3. With regards to our asset sensitivity, our rate risk profile has been reduced over the last two years as we've added fixed-rate residential mortgages, and the yield on the majority of our available rate commercial loans have bottomed out at their contractual floors.
We are poised to recognize significant increases in net interest income in a rising rate environment once these floors are no longer inhibiting loan yield escalation and with ongoing balance sheet growth. Consequently, this asset sensitivity is more muted initially, but accelerates as interest rates normalize.
In a rising rate environment, other areas of Western Alliance's income statement may also be influenced. Mortgage sector volumes and profitability are expected to be reduced with lower refinance volumes, partially offset by increased servicing revenue if the life of mortgage servicing rights are extended. AmeriHome is now fully integrated into WAL. And gain-on-sale volume and margin contraction can be minimized by accelerating loan, deposit, EBO and product channel diversification, none of which are available to stand-alone mortgage operators but are available within a bank-owned company.
We expect net interest income sourced through AmeriHome relationships to rise throughout the year, countering reductions in traditional mortgage banking income and growing total revenue in net. Our efficiency ratio improved modestly to One of the key characteristics of our national business line approaches is high operating leverage. As mentioned in our prior calls, we expect the efficiency ratio to remain in the lower 40s for the year, inclusive of planned technology investments, new product development expenses and the absorption of higher compensation costs supporting rising rates and deposit account relationships.
This continued strong performance in leading capital generation provides us with significant flexibility to fund ongoing balance sheet growth, manage capital actions in the credit demands. We continue to generate consistent organic loan growth from our flexible national business banking strategy and are seeing broad-based demand. Quarterly loan growth was split almost evenly by an increase in residential real estate loans of 1.
And we saw an acceleration of demand for broader business lending nationwide. Turning to deposits. We continue to see broad-based core deposit growth across our business channels. Robust fundraising activity and tech innovation, coupled with market share expansion of HOA banking relationships, contributed significantly to quarterly deposit growth. We also saw strong performance in regional commercial products.
This initiative launched in with a new senior leader and has recruited a highly effective team and has established offices in New York City and Minneapolis. We now have established ourselves as a formidable market competitor in this space. Our asset quality remained stable after the significant improvement seen in the prior quarter. Total classified assets in special mention loans as a percentage of total assets and funded loans are now lower than in In all, total loan ACL and funded loans declined six basis points to 74 basis points.
The ACL ratio is 89 basis points. Finally, given our industry-leading return on equity and assets, we continue to generate significant capital to fund organic growth and maintain healthy regulatory capital ratios.
Our tangible common equity to total assets of 7. I'll now hand the call back over to Ken to conclude with closing comments. Thanks, Dale. We are very excited about the diverse set of growth opportunities in front of us as we enter Residential loan purchases will remain strong, but the relative contribution to growth will be driven by liquidity so as not to crowd out core commercial lending opportunities.
We believe that net interest margin declines have abated and expect net interest margin to rise in concert with the FOMC assets. Stable and rising NIM, coupled with strong balance sheet growth, will drive net interest income higher. Regarding capital, our strong organic capital generation continues to support balance sheet growth.
To facilitate this, we expect to add two million shares to our ATM capacity. In conclusion, we continue to see strong pipeline and have the operating flexibility to both execute on near-term opportunities while investing for long-term growth.
We believe the current full year consensus guide is the floor for but should tilt more to quarters three, four to reflect the seasonal and cyclical nature of our business lines and AMH's reposition.
Finally, one last note regarding Robert Sarver, our executive chairman. Our independent directors are actively engaged in monitoring the allegations being investigated by the MBA. The independent directors have hired an independent outside law firm, [inaudible], to advise the independent directors on this matter and assist them to conducting an investigation to evaluate Robert's continued leadership role at the company.
The investigation is being directed and overseen by the independent directors and to be clear, is not the result of any allegations related to the company discovered by the Board or the MBA. In addition, Western Alliance has and will continue to assist the MBA in an ongoing investigation as requested. At this time, Dale and Tim Bruckner, who is in the room, our chief credit officer, and I are happy to take your questions. Yes, thanks. Good morning guys.
Question on the balance sheet growth guide, specifically deposits. And to the extent that you guys do, it sounds like you want to keep the loan-to-deposit ratio in the low 80s. Can you match that loan growth on the deposit side, which will obviously be a little bit harder in a rising rate environment? The answer is yes, OK? That's why we made the loan and deposits, just dollars growing the same amount.
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