Sunday, March 29, 2009

Washington State Banks Under Stress

by Calculated Risk on 3/29/2009 10:37:00 AM

From the Seattle Times: Washington's banks under stress (ht Lyle)

Ailing financial giants such as Citigroup, Bank of America and AIG have drawn most of the attention as the worst banking crisis since the Great Depression grinds on.

But several of Washington's community banks also are clearly straining under the weight of the crisis, a Seattle Times analysis shows.

At least a dozen of the 52 Washington-based banks examined are carrying heavy loads of past-due loans, defaults and foreclosed properties relative to their financial resources. ...

While banks big and small have been kneecapped by the collapse of the housing bubble, the crisis has played out differently for the big "money center" banks and the thousands of regional and community banks sprinkled across the country.

The main problem for the big banks and investment firms has been exotic instruments such as collateralized mortgage obligations, structured investment vehicles and credit-default swaps — all tied, one way or another, to pools of residential mortgages that were bought, sold, sliced up and repackaged like so much salami.
But at most community banks, residential mortgages were a relatively small part of their business. Instead, their troubles are tied directly to their heavy dependence on real-estate loans — mainly loans to local builders and developers.

"Many community banks found that (construction and development loans) was an area in which they could compete effectively against the big banks," Frontier's Fahey said.

At Frontier Bank, for example, construction and development loans made up 44.5 percent of all assets at year's end. City Bank had 53.3 percent of its assets in such loans, and at Seattle Bank (until recently Seattle Savings Bank), they constituted a full 54.2 percent of total assets.
Regulators can act to bring wobbly banks back into balance, short of seizing them outright. Four Washington banks — Horizon, Frontier, Westsound and Bank Reale of Pasco — are operating under FDIC "corrective action plans" that place tight restrictions on their lending practices, management and overall operations.

But sometimes, such plans just delay the inevitable. Last year, for instance, the FDIC imposed corrective action plans on Pinnacle Bank and Silver Falls Bank, both of Oregon; in February, both were seized.
This article makes a couple of key points that we've been discussing: many community and regional banks sidestepped the residential mortgage debacle, and focused on local commercial real estate (CRE) and construction & development (C&D) lending. Now, with rapidly increasing defaults on C&D and CRE loans, the high concentrations of CRE and C&D loans at these banks will lead to many bank failures. And unlike the "too big to fail" banks, these community banks will just be seized by the FDIC.