Bruce Toll, half of the home-building Toll Bros. who made the big suburban homes dubbed McMansions, remembers every purchase he made of Vernon Hill’s Metro Bank (UK), starting before it went public in 2016: “I was an original. I got in at £7, £10, £20, and back down at £5,” he recalls.
For most of its history, those were good prices. Metro went public at £22 ($26.71) and peaked at £80 ($97.14) in March 2018. But that was before Hill’s bank disclosed that it had misclassified loans and needed more capital than it had claimed on public reports.
By July 25, the stock had plunged to $4.98, and Hill agreed to step down as board chairman. Hill will remain president, and a director, while his colleagues try to find a personality strong enough to run the board in Hill’s shadow.
The shares have since dropped a little more, to $3.80 on Thursday. That leaves Toll and other early investors underwater. But so are some other very smart and very rich co-investors — real estate mogul Richard LeFrak, and SAC hedge fund chief Steven A. Cohen, among others.
“I know Steve Cohen, not well, but I’ve been to his house for dinner. I know LeFrak," Toll said.
He doesn’t know the British bankers and businessmen who dominate Metro’s board. Of the directors, “the only one I know is Vernon. We have dinner together about three times a year,” typically at restaurants in Palm Beach.
In sum, “I am investing on faith in Vernon. And these other guys are smart guys, too. If they have faith in Vernon, I do also. You could call me a silent investor."
He’s not worried about Hill running out of steam after a career as a fast-food store owner and site developer, Commerce Bancorp founder, eclectic investor in an Italian glassworks, and a Newtown Square pet insurer: “At 73, he’s younger than me.”
Hill is also chairman at Republic Bank in Philadelphia, one of the few banks adding branches in the region (another is JPMorgan Chase & Co.) while rivals are mostly shutting locations as customers move online. Owner Republic First Bancorp’s shares, which doubled after Hill became chairman in 2016, have slid back to their pre-Hill level of around $4 a share (and closed at $4.10 Thursday).
Toll’s interests are varied, such as the Reedman Toll auto dealership and Pennsylvania anthracite strip mines. The investments he really wants to talk about are suburban Philadelphia apartments: the West End Flats and Granite Run Mall redevelopments in Media borough, totaling 400 units, and 402 more at a mixed-use site in Upper Dublin Township, with more than 150,000 square feet of stores and restaurants.
“It’s the first one I’ve built like this. It’s different from those town centers in King of Prussia or Towamencin. You really ought to stop, I’ll show you around."