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Many Arizona Small Businesses And Banks Say A Federal Loan Program Isn’t Needed - AZ Business Magazine Nov/Dec 2010

Many Arizona Small Businesses And Banks Say A Federal Loan Program Isn’t Needed

President Barack Obama has signed a bill that aims to increase small business lending. But it’s not exactly popular among Arizona’s small companies and community banks. They question whether a multibillion-dollar loan fund created by the legislation will achieve its goal.

The Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010 will establish a $30 billion Small Business Lending Fund within the U.S. Treasury. The Treasury will use that money to purchase preferred shares in small- to medium-size banks that voluntarily participate in the program, injecting new capital that the banks would be encouraged to lend to small businesses. The more loans the banks make, the lower the dividend rate they pay the Treasury.

“As a small business owner, I am allergic to government intervention,” says Charlie O’Dowd, president of Westcap Solar, a Tucson company that sells and installs solar photovoltaic and solar hot-water systems. “I don’t think that this legislation is going to be any more effective than the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) legislation. In this economy, it’s not that there isn’t money to be borrowed. It’s qualifying for the loan that’s the problem.”

The new law also gives John P. Lewis a bad taste in his mouth. Lewis is president and CEO of Southern Arizona Community Bank in Tucson, and a member of the FDIC’s Advisory Committee On Community Banking.

“Last January, the committee had a robust discussion (on the legislation),” Lewis says. “The committee said, ‘We don’t want to be a part of this.’ Community banks don’t need the additional capital. I have more money than I know what to do with. I need qualified borrowers.”

O’Dowd and Lewis describe a situation that is frustrating for both and that neither believes government policy will resolve. O’Dowd says small businesses’ sales are slow, impacting their ability to qualify for loans. Lewis says his loan demand is flat because there are fewer qualified borrowers.

The Arizona Small Business Association points to a wary small business community that’s in no mood to take on more debt. Earlier in the recession, small businesses tried in vain to obtain bank loans, but now they are in survival mode, says Donna Davis, the association’s CEO.

“Bank loans are not at the top of their list now,” Davis says. “Some businesses have lending fatigue. They just gave up (trying to get loans). Now they are focused on lack of sales. If sales don’t pick up, if work doesn’t pick up, they won’t seek credit. If they can boost sales and profits, then they can justify hiring and expanding.”

One outside observer sees a triumvirate of doubt that the legislation will not mitigate. Dennis Hoffman, professor of economics at Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business, says this recession has caused consumers, businesses and banks to lose their confidence. Lacking the good credit risk they saw five years ago, banks have “pulled in their oars,” Hoffman says. Creditworthy businesses fret so much over the economy, they don’t even apply for loans. Recession-scarred consumers remain stingy.

“We need to climb this wall of worry to get out of this morass,” Hoffman says. “This is a market-based, private-sector issue that will have to work itself out.”

Gail Grace, president and CEO of Sunrise Bank of Arizona headquartered in Phoenix, doesn’t sense much support for the legislation among Arizona’s banks, and wonders how many community banks would be able to participate.

“Community banks in Arizona are stressed and many may not even qualify for this program,” Grace says. “You will still have to have a fairly healthy bank to qualify for this.”

Not everyone has a dim view of the law. Robert Blaney, Arizona’s Small Business Administration district director, notes that the law will increase the SBA’s loan guarantee from 75 percent to 90 percent, easing banks’ risk on those loans. The law also will lower fees and raise the SBA’s maximum loan amount from $2 million to $5 million. There are thousands of small business owners nationwide that were waiting for the lending bill to become law, Blaney says.

One of those is Benefits By Design, a Tempe company that sets up health benefit plans for small businesses. The company’s president, Kristine Kassel, says there is a need for loans and it would be helpful if just two community banks expanded their small business lending. She adds that any amount of new credit that can be extended to small businesses is a good thing.

Banks interested in acquiring low-cost capital might be attracted to the Treasury fund and they might be enticed by the built-in incentives to direct new-found capital into small business lending, says Dan Stewart, Arizona market president for Mutual of Omaha.

But then he echoes what others say: “The (law) doesn’t encourage banks to take on more credit risk, so qualified borrowers are the key.”

    By the Numbers
    The Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010



  • Establishes a $30 billion Small Business Lending Fund within the U.S. Treasury
  • Treasury will use money to purchase preferred shares in small- to medium-size banks that voluntarily participate in the program
  • SBA’s loan guarantee would increase from 75 percent to 90 percent
  • The SBA’s maximum loan amount would increase from $2 million to $5 million

Arizona Business Magazine Nov/Dec 2010

nonresidential building outlook

Non-Residential Building Feeling Effects Of Recession

Although non-residential building held up longer than residential activity in the current recession, the non-residential downturn now has started and is expected to continue into 2010.

Non-residential building began to increase strongly at the beginning of 2006, just as residential activity started to sag. Double-digit growth continued in seven of the next 10 quarters, propping up the economy and partially offsetting the drag on GDP created by the residential downturn. But non-residential building hit the skids in the fourth quarter of 2008, with an annualized decrease of 9 percent. However, that was a minor dip compared to the latest GDP figures. In the first quarter of 2009, spending on non-residential building was down a whopping 44 percent. Double-digit quarterly decreases in non-residential building outlays are expected through 2009. If forecasts from Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business prove to be correct, spending on non-residential structures won’t move back into the positive range until the third quarter of 2010, after nearly two years of decline.

Just as residential building has been hit by a weak economy, non-residential construction is now feeling the effects of reduced demand for office space and facilities of all types.

Moreover, tighter credit standards, originally linked to residential mortgage problems, are now affecting non-residential financing, while commercial real estate borrowing is plummeting. According to surveys of bank loan officers by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, non-residential construction loan credit standards have grown tighter in each of the past 12 consecutive months. Meanwhile, bank loan demand by builders of commercial real estate declined in each of these months.

A collapse in non-residential building will have a sharp impact on an already weak construction industry in metropolitan Phoenix. In 2005, at the peak of the housing boom, residential permits accounted for approximately two-thirds of the $14 billion total value of building permits for the year, while non-residential made up the remaining third. By 2008, the relative importance of residential and non-residential activity switched, as non-residential permits of $6.6 billion accounted for two-thirds of the total, and residential permits fell from $9 billion in 2005 to less than $3 billion in 2008.

Observers expect the value of non-residential permits will fall by as much as one half this year, offsetting any meager gains if residential housing shows signs of life.

New retail, office and industrial space actually put in place is expected to be less than 10 million square feet this year, down two-thirds from more than 30 million square feet in 2007. And 2010 will be even weaker. The consensus among real estate analysts is that new retail, office and industrial space added next year will not reach 4 million square feet.

Non-residential building has posted many instances of sustained downturns, the most recent being the six consecutive quarters beginning with the fourth quarter of 2001, after the attacks of Sept. 11.

As long as labor markets are weak, financial markets are tight and securitization barely exists, it is unlikely that non-residential building will show strong signs of life nationally or in the Phoenix metro area.

Financial Institutions Receive Bailout

Financial Institutions In Arizona Are Expected To Receive Bailout Money

While most of Arizona’s state-chartered banks were mulling over their options for federal assistance late last year, Uncle Sam was injecting billions of dollars of new capital into national banking companies with Arizona subsidiaries. The question is whether any of that money from the Department of the Treasury’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) will find its way here.

Although there were a couple of exceptions, nationally chartered banks with Arizona operations didn’t know whether portions of their capital infusions would be earmarked for deployment in Arizona, and they may not know until sometime during the first quarter. The capital comes in the form of federal purchases of senior preferred shares. The Treasury set aside $250 billion for the program.

The Treasury purchased $200 million of shares in Seattle-based Washington Federal Inc., the parent company of Washington Federal Savings. John Pirtle, senior vice president and Phoenix division manager for Washington Federal, estimates the thrift’s Arizona operations will receive about $20 million and use it for mortgage lending.

Western Alliance Bancorporation in Las Vegas, owner of Alliance Bank of Arizona, received $140 million from the Treasury. James Lundy, chief executive officer of the Arizona bank, expects his parent company to share the new capital.

“I would expect we’ll get somewhere between $8 million and $12 million,” Lundy says. “That would be a good estimate. We are well capitalized now, but we do have plans to continue our growth trajectory, which has been pretty strong.”

Alliance Bank would use the capital to “support a bigger balance sheet, so we can gather more deposits to make more loans,” Lundy says. “Banks like ours are the ones making loans to small and mid-size businesses. Despite the economic issues Arizona is facing, we have strong loan demand from borrowers we think are very creditworthy.”

Ten million dollars in new capital can be leveraged to generate $100 million in new loans, Lundy says.

The Treasury purchased $1.715 billion of stock in Milwaukee-based Marshall & Illsley Corporation.

“All the funds are going to be used throughout the franchise,” says Dennis Jones, chairman and president of M&I’s Arizona region. “It’s not a matter of allocating a certain amount of it for Arizona.”

Chicago-based Northern Trust Corporation, parent company of Northern Trust Bank, received a $1.576 billion capital infusion. David Highmark, chairman and chief executive officer of the Arizona subsidiary, says he expects enough of the capital will flow to his bank to allow it to keep growing. Northern Trust Bank’s loan volume is two to three times its normal level.

“If our loan volume continues to grow as it has, we will get a portion of that money allocated to us,” Highmark says.

The parent company is classified as well capitalized, “but we knew, based on our growth, that we would ultimately need more capital. This was a timely opportunity for us,” Highmark notes.

Zions Bancorporation in Salt Lake City, owner of National Bank of Arizona, received $1.4 billion from the Treasury. Keith Maio, president and chief executive officer of the Arizona bank, says he expects his bank will receive some of the capital, but the amount has not been determined. Maio says the funds will be used to bolster the bank’s capital ratios to keep it actively lending, targeting small to medium-size businesses.

Other Treasury stock purchases of nationally chartered banks with Arizona subsidiaries break down as follows:
JPMorgan Chase & Co., New York — $25 billion.
Bank of America, Charlotte, N.C. — $25 billion.
Wells Fargo & Company, San Francisco — $25 billion.
U.S. Bancorp, Minneapolis, owner of U.S. Bank — $6.599 billion.
Comerica Incorporated, Dallas, owner of Comerica Bank — $2.25 billion.
Mutual of Omaha in Omaha, Neb., which acquired First National Bank of Arizona, did not apply for TARP funding.

The Treasury gave publicly traded banks the first opportunity to receive capital infusions, with a Nov. 14 deadline to apply for stock purchases. It issued capital-infusion guidelines later for privately held banks, which had until Dec. 8 to apply. According to the Arizona Bankers Association, most of Arizona’s 33 state-chartered banks are privately held and had not applied to the Treasury while they weighed their options as their deadline neared. Jack Hudock with the Arizona Department of Financial Institutions said eight state-chartered banks or bank holding companies had applied, but he could not identify them and did not know the status of their applications.

Meridian Bank of Arizona, a privately held, nationally chartered bank owned by Marquette Financial Companies in Minneapolis, applied for a federal stock purchase and was awaiting a decision from the Treasury concerning how much capital it might receive. Doug Hile, president and CEO of Meridian, is not happy that publicly traded banks had first shot at a capital infusion. He does not mince his words in his displeasure over how the government treated privately held banks.

“From a public policy perspective, it’s not fair to small banks that have opted not to go public with their stock,” Hile says. “We are up in arms about it. This is harming Main Street banking by not allowing them to participate on an equal basis.”