WINTER HAVEN, FL (June 17, 2010)- Rachel Pleasant, The Ledger
Stability is the theme of the most recent report looking at the health of banks and credit unions in Polk County. The first-quarter report from Coral Gables-based BauerFinancial shows nearly all of the county's banks and credit unions maintained their star ratings from the previous quarter. In fact, the only quarter-to-quarter change belonged to Winter Haven's Centerstate Bank of Florida, which improved its rating from four stars to five. BauerFinancial assigns star ratings based on assets, profits or losses and other factors. The ratings range from zero stars to five, with five being the best. BauerFinancial's president, Karen Dorway, said the fact that all of Polk's banks and credit unions held steady from last quarter is an encouraging sign. "That's great news with the way things have been going," Dorway said. "If you picture that we've been in a downward spiral, it appears that we're making that turn. It's not enough of a trend to say that definitively, but that looks like what's happening now." It would take four full quarters of similar results to call these signs of stability a trend, Dorway said. Dorway said BauerFinancial saw signs of stability across the state, which is especially good news because banking is a lagging indicator of the economy. "It takes (financial institutions) longer to start coming back after a downturn. It takes time for customers to fall behind on payments and time for them to catch back up," she said. "There's a feeling that banks have taken most of the losses they're going to take." Still, Dorway said, that doesn't mean we're out of the woods since unemployment remains high; 12. 1 percent in April for Polk, according to the state's Agency for Workforce Innovation, compared to 9.7 percent in April 2009. "That makes it hard to get any momentum," she said. Centerstate Bank of Florida President and CEO John Corbett attributed his institution's positive performance in the most recent report to a willingness to work with customers and give concessions when necessary. Also contributing to the added star was an improving capital ratio thanks to consistent quarterly profits - even during the downturn. In the most recent report, Centerstate Bank of Florida had a quarterly income of $1.46 million. Looking ahead, Corbett is optimistic about the financial industry, though he says the next couple of years won't be easy. "When people are upside down on a house, you don't figure that out overnight," he said. There are two changes of note in this quarter's report. Wachovia is now owned by Wells Fargo Bank N.A. Also, Riverside National Bank of Florida failed in April and merged with TD Bank NA.