Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tree.com considering adding small-business loans to lineup

The parent company of LendingTree, known for matching people shopping for mortgages with lenders, is considering adding small-business loans to its lineup, its CEO said Tuesday.

Doug Lebda said it would mark the first time Ballantyne-based Tree.com has matched lenders and small businesses.

"We're taking a hard look at small-business loans," he said.

The move comes as Tree.com continues to diversify its offerings to consumers. LendingTree was founded in 1996 to help consumers comparison-shop for mortgages. Today, Tree.com's websites allow consumers to shop for personal and auto loans, online degrees and plumbers and other types of home professionals.

Last year, the company began allowing consumers to shop for reverse mortgages on Lendingtree.com. Also last year, the company added the ability to comparison shop for credit cards, and it relaunched its personal loan product.

Mortgage products still generate the lion’s share of revenue for the company.

Dixon Hughes Goodman names new CEO

Charlotte-based accounting and advisory firm Dixon Hughes Goodman said Tuesday that it has named Matt Snow as its CEO, effective June 1.

Snow had previously been managing partner for the Charlotte region. In his time at the company, he's shepherded 100 new positions in Charlotte and extended the services the advisory division provides.

“I am humbled and honored to be given this opportunity. I couldn’t be more excited about where we are heading as a firm,” Snow said in a statement. “I’ve been in this career my whole working life, and since joining the firm seven years ago, these have been the best years of my professional career."

Dixon Hughes Goodman has more than 1,800 employees across 11 states and is one of the largest accounting and advisory firms in the country. Snow said he plans to spend the first 90 days as chief executive traveling to the firm's different offices to get to know the markets.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Aquesta Financial increases profit in first quarter

Cornelius-based Aquesta Financial Holdings said Monday that it made $428,000 in the first quarter, up 23 percent from the same time period a year ago.

The bank grew its loan book and overall assets. CEO Jim Engel said the results were also boosted by strong earnings in its insurance subsidiary.

Aquesta has spent the last two years expanding its branch network and beginning to offer dividends to investors. Engel has likened the strategy shift to moving from "defense" to "offense."

"This change in focus, while maintaining good asset quality, is allowing Aquesta to capture market share to the benefit of our customers," Engel said in a statement Monday.

The company had been known simply as Aquesta Bank before forming a holding company last month.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Coastal Federal ranks highest for checking account interest rates in Meck

Coastal Federal Credit Union pays the highest checking account interest rate among all banks with locations in Mecklenburg County, according to a ranking released Friday by GoBankingRates.com.

Raleigh-based Coastal earned the top spot in the county with its 2.01 percent rate for its Go Green account. The account pays that rate for customers who use their debit card at least 30 times a month.

The website also said the average checking account interest rate in Charlotte is 0.18 percent, which is slightly higher than the national average of 0.17 percent.

But the rise in U.S. interest rates -- such as higher mortgage rates -- is not being felt in deposit accounts, the website says. Compared with a year ago, checking account rates have posted a decline of 0.02 percent.

On a national level, credit unions offer higher interest rates than banks on average, the website also found. The average among credit unions is 0.31 percent compared with 0.16 percent for banks. Community banks, though, pay the highest interest rates available in U.S. today.

Here's a look at the nine other banks that making up the top 10 paying the highest checking account interest rates in Mecklenburg County:

  • Aquesta Bank, Flagship Checking, 0.85 percent
  • BlueHarbor Bank, Neon Blue Checking, 0.85 percent
  • CommunityOne Bank, eRewards, 0.8 percent
  • Bank of the Ozarks, MaxYield Checking, 0.55 percent
  • Fifth Third Bank, Fifth Third Preferred Checking, 0.46 percent
  • Peoples Bank, Rewards Checking, 0.4 percent
  • NewDominion Bank, First Rate Checking, 0.15 percent
  • BlueHarbor Bank, Interest Checking, 0.1 percent
  • Charlotte Metro Credit Union, Premier Checking Account, 0.1 percent

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

6 takeaways from Bank of America's 1Q earnings

Bank of America reported first-quarter financial results Wednesday, becoming the fourth major U.S. bank to do so.

The Charlotte-based bank lost $276 million, or 5 cents per share, as $6 billion in legal expenses weighed on its earnings. In the first quarter of last year, it reported  profit of $1.5 billion.

Below are six key takeaways from its quarterly results and conference call.

1. LEGAL COSTS STILL AN ISSUE.

The bank continues to grapple with legal expenses nearly six years after the financial crisis.

In the first quarter, the bank reached a $9.3 billion settlement with the Federal Housing Finance Agency over alleged violations of securities laws in connection with residential mortgage-backed securities. On a call with reporters, Chief Financial Officer Bruce Thompson said the settlement contributed $3.6 billion of the $6 billion in legal costs the bank reported in the quarter.

Later in the morning, during a call with analysts, Thompson said future litigation costs for the bank will be "very hard to predict.”

Also Wednesday, the bank announced a settlement of up to $950 million with bond insurer Financial Guaranty Insurance Co., as well as separate settlements with Bank of New York Mellon Corp., over mortgage-backed securities that FGIC insured.

2. BANK VAGUE ON LEGAL RESERVES

On the call, analysts wanted to know why the bank increased its reserves -- the funds it puts aside to cover legal expenses -- by $2.4 billion, a figure that surprised some analysts. The amount is what made up the balance of the bank's $6 billion in legal costs for the quarter.

But the bank's executives declined to go into detail.

Thompson described the bump in reserves as necessary to cover "previously disclosed legacy mortgage-related matters," but he really didn't say much beyond that.

3. HEADCOUNT STILL SHRINKING

Bank of America disclosed Wednesday that its employment fell to 238,560 in the first quarter, down 9 percent, or 24,252 full-time equivalents, from a year ago.

The majority of those cuts have stemmed from the bank reducing staff that handled its troubled-loan portfolio, which the bank has continued to shrink. Many of those loans came from its 2008 acquisition of subprime lender Countrywide Financial Corp. Some of those job cuts have affected Charlotte.

4. BRANCH AND ATM NUMBERS SHRINKING, TOO

Bank of America’s branch count has fallen by 605 since 2011, when it announced a massive cost-cutting plan called Project New BAC. It has shed 1,586 automated teller machines over the same period.

That leaves the bank with 5,095 branches and 16,214 ATMs.

Moynihan indicated Wednesday that the branch count could come down further.

"We will adjust," he said in response to an analyst who asked whether more cuts are coming.

5. MOBILE BANKING ON THE RISE

While the number of branches and ATMs is falling, the bank's number of mobile-banking customers keeps rising. Such customers grew 19 percent in the first quarter from a year ago to 15 million, the bank said.

The bank said about 10 percent of the deposits its customers make are done via mobile devices. Thanks to smartphones, Moynihan said, "people effectively carry a branch in their pocket."

6. MORTGAGE BUSINESS DOWN BUT MIGHT BE POISED FOR PICKUP

It came as no surprise that the bank's mortgage business was down dramatically from a year ago, as other banks have also seen mortgage declines thanks to less refinancing activity. Demand to refinance has waned as mortgage rates have risen in the past year. That has sent some banks scurrying to find replacement revenue.

Bank of America's mortgage business earned $412 million in the first quarter, down 67.4 percent from $1.26 billion a year ago. In some good news, its so-called "pipeline" of new mortgages rose 23 percent in the quarter from the fourth quarter of last year.

The uptick is not all that surprising, as home sales tend to rise in the spring.

Movement Mortgage names Laura Bowles as CFO

Laura Bowles, daughter-in-law of former University of North Carolina system president Erskine Bowles, has been named chief financial officer of Movement Mortgage.

The company made the announcement Wednesday, although Bowles' first day was March 1.

Bowles becomes the first CFO for the company, which was co-founded in Charlotte in 2008 by ex-Carolina Panther Casey Crawford. Before her hire, Crawford, the company's CEO, said he had been handling CFO duties.

Bowles is a former executive for Citibank, where she was director and head of consumer and small business lending products. She has also worked as a risk manager for Bank of America and as a chief financial officer for Wachovia.

Bowles' hire comes as Crawford is pushing for the company to become the largest privately held mortgage lender in the U.S. Over the next 10 years, Crawford expects Movement Mortgage to be closing one out of every 10 loans for home purchases, he said.

The company is now headquartered in Virginia Beach, Va., and has roughly 1,200 employees. Approximately 250 are in Charlotte, Crawford said.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bank of Commerce earnings hit by preferred stock repricing

Charlotte-based Bank of Commerce's net income to shareholders fell in the first quarter despite loan and deposit growth as preferred stock originally stemming from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program became more expensive.

The bank's net income to shareholders fell to $62,000, down 10 percent from the year before. Before the impact of Bank of Commerce's preferred stock payments, however, net income rose 15 percent to $135,000.

The preferred stock became more expensive as a function of how the U.S. Treasury structured the federal bank bailout program in 2008 and 2009. The government required an annual interest payment that would jump from 5 percent to 9 percent after five years. That time period has now arrived for most of the community banks who still have the investments on their books.

The price change remains in effect even if the bank's preferred stock has been sold to private investors. Bank of Commerce's TARP investment was auctioned off in 2012.

Last month, Bank of Commerce agreed to be sold to Asheville's HomeTrust Bancshares. CEO Wes Sturges cited regulatory pressure and the impending repricing of the preferred stock as factors.