Friday, May 31, 2013

Bank of North Carolina to merge with Randolph Bank

The parent company of Bank of North Carolina said Friday that it plans to merge with Randolph Bank & Trust Co., in a deal that will grow BNC by six branches.

BNC Bancorp said terms call for Randolph common shareholders to receive $10.4 million in cash and shares of BNC common stock. BNC will also pay $8.7 million in cash to liquidate Randolph’s preferred shareholders, including the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which bought Randolph shares in 2009 under the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

High Point-based BNC, which last year bought Charlotte-based First Trust Bank, said the merger will also give it $168 million in loans and $270 million in deposits from Randolph, which is based in Asheboro.

The merger still needs approval from regulators and Randolph shareholders, but BNC said it is expected to be finalized in the third quarter.

BNC has four offices in the city of Charlotte. Randolph does not have branches in the Charlotte area. 

Through the merger, BNC said, it will acquire three branches in Asheboro and one each in Burlington, Mebane and Randleman.

Among banks, BNC is No. 19 in Mecklenburg County when ranked by deposits. BNC has $49.4 million in deposits in the county, giving it a 0.03 percent share of the market.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

N.C. below average in 'financial capability'

The average North Carolinian has more unpaid medical debt, less savings and less financial knowledge than the typical American, according to a state-by-state survey of "financial capability" by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

North Carolina ranks second from the bottom in terms of percentage of the population with delinquent medical bills, at 36 percent. Only Mississippi is worse. The average is 24 percent.

In the other categories, North Carolina was only slightly below the U.S. average.

  • 60 percent of North Carolinians reported not having a three-month savings fund. The national average was 56 percent.
  • 35 percent in N.C. make only minimum credit card payments. It's 34 percent nationwide.
  • On a five-question financial literacy test, N.C. got 2.84 correct on average. The U.S. scored 2.88.
  • Both N.C. and the U.S. came in at 41 percent reporting spending less than they make each month.
You can check out South Carolina's results here.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Aquesta Bank scouting for Huntersville location

Aquesta Bank is scouting locations for a new Huntersville branch, its first in the town and fifth overall, the bank told the Observer on Tuesday.

The Cornelius-based commercial bank also announced two new additions to its lending team, including one who will bring a new focus on retail loans.

They're the latest moves for a bank that's shifted "from defensive banking to a focus on growth," as CEO Jim Engel put it in a news release Tuesday.

The bank's shares began trading over the counter in June. Last month, it offered its first stock dividend. In the past year, it's also hired back its marketing director and opened a fourth branch in Mooresville. Later this year, it plans to roll out mobile banking.

The two new hires come from rival BlueHarbor bank, which is based in Mooresville.

John Reeves is now vice president and commercial loan officer covering Davidson.

Rick Eveson joins Aqusta as vice president and retail lending executive, a new focus for the bank. He will offer home equity, construction and residential loans to potential homebuyers and realtors.

Wells Fargo set to roll out new website

Wells Fargo will roll out "sweeping changes" to its website in the next few weeks, aimed at organizing information and products around goals or life stages -- like going to college or retiring.

The bank has begun notifying customers that the changes are coming, pledging a "cleaner design" and suggestions on products that may be of interest.

"The goal is to bring the consultative service approach from our 6,200 stores to the online environment," spokesman Josh Dunn says in an email. "We also want to make it easier for visitors and customers to learn about financial topics, make good financial choices and ultimately get the financial products and services they need to succeed financially."

No worries, online bankers. Log-in information won't change.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

NewDominion Bank finishes $10 million capital raise

Charlotte's NewDominion Bank is set to announce Thursday that it has finished the $10 million capital raise it's been working on for the past year.

Nearly all of it was raised from Charlotte residents, with an average investment of $40,000. The new method of fundraising was enabled in part by a new federal law that allows banks to have more investors before being required to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The capital will go a long way toward helping NewDominion get out from under a regulatory consent order issued after the mortgage bust. The Charlotte bank's capital had eroded from losses on development loans. Since then, a new management team has been working to clean up its balance sheet.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Charlotte Metro Credit Union CEO growing membership, focusing on technology

The public outcry against big banks has died down over the past year, but Charlotte Metro Credit Union CEO Bob Bruns says his institution is still cashing in.

"People are dissatisfied with the service big banks deliver," he said. "More and more people are seeking an alternative."

Yeah, they've never been afraid to poke a stick at the big banks up the street. You may recall an ad or two featuring pigs and money-sucking bankers. But it appears to be working.

Membership jumped 10 percent last year at the credit union, making it the fastest growing in the state by that measure, according to consulting firm Callahan & Associates.

Charlotte Metro also closed this week on its largest business loan to date, a $2.5 million loan to buy a mixed-use building in Cornelius.

The Observer caught up with Bruns in his office at the credit union's building off Central Avenue. He's celebrating his 30th year as CEO as the credit union hits its 50-year anniversary. Here's a little more of what he had to say.

How do you plan to grow from here?

"It takes a little bit of everything, " Bruns said. Physical locations are important, and keeping the credit union's name out in the market with advertising.

But new branches are likely not in the offing, he said. Charlotte Metro has opened several new ones over the past few years, enough for now, Bruns said.

"We're focused on technology right now."

How so?
Mobile technology is at the top of the list, he said. Remote deposit capture -- that technology that lets you deposit a check using your smartphone -- will come soon. Charlotte Metro is also looking at peer-to-peer transactions using PayPal.

One technology that's not getting investment, though, is ATMs. Charlotte Metro does not participate in the national co-op that lets many credit unions share use of their machines. Why not? It's expensive, Bruns said. And ATM usage is dropping, he said.

"That's one we may skip," he said.

How are regulations affecting you?

The fallout of the financial crisis is indeed hitting credit unions in the form of new regulations, Bruns said. Charlotte Metro now has a full-time compliance officer, and the creidt union spends a lot of time reviewing disclosures.

It's manageable for a mid-sized institution like Charlotte Metro, but Bruns said he's worried about the impact on smaller peers.

"I'm afraid it may hurry about their demise," he said. He said he expects to see consolidation in the Charlotte market in the future.

How about relations with Congress?

Bruns was one of a handful of North Carolina credit union executives lobbying lawmakers on Capitol Hill last week. Issue No. 1: Their tax exemption.

As tax reform gains momentum, some committees have reportedly started looking at whether credit unions' tax exemption should be eliminated.

Bruns said he stressed the differences between banks and credit unions. Banks are owned by shareholders  while credit unions are owned by their members.

"We're afraid if we were taxed, we'd go away," he said.

He also has been pushing for the ability to lend more to businesses. Federal law limits a credit union's business lending to 12.25 percent of its assets. Bills have regularly been filed to raise that to 27 percent.

Bruns said Charlotte Metro is at about half its current cap, but would ultimately like to see it eliminated.

"It's badly needed for the country," he said. "It will stimulate the economy significantly if they do that."

Park Sterling board members re-elected

Four Park Sterling Bank board members were re-elected Wednesday at the company's annual meeting in Charlotte.

Leslie Baker, Larry Carroll and Ben Rudisill will serve until 2016, while Kim Price's term is set to expire in 2014, according to a securities filing.

Price and Rudisill became Park Sterling board members following the bank's $77 million purchase in October of Gastonia-based Citizens South Banking Corp. Price retired as Citizens South president and CEO as a result of the acquisition. Rudisill had been a director of Citizens South at the time of the acquisition.

Here's a look at total compensation, according to a securities filing, for the four board members in 2012:

  • Baker: $51,000
  • Carroll: $25,500
  • Price: $837,500
  • Rudisill: $25,923

Park Sterling, Charlotte's largest community bank, has taken off the pause button after a self-imposed moratorium on mergers and acquisitions that was in place while it completed its purchase of Citizens South.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

FNB United gets OK to merge banks

FNB United Corp. said Tuesday it has gotten approval to merge its two banks: CommunityOne and Bank of Granite.

The two banks came together in 2011 in a $310 million joint recapitalization that shored up the two teetering institutions. But they had operated largely separate as executives worked to combine the charters.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has now given the OK to fold Bank of Granite into CommunityOne. The old Granite Falls bank's last day will be June 7. The branches will reopen as CommunityOne on June 10.

That means the CommunityOne name is headed to Charlotte. Bank of Granite has two Charlotte locations, uptown and in SouthPark.

FNB United is also looking for approval to change its corporate name to CommunityOne Bancorp. Shareholders will vote on the proposal at its annual meeting in June.

Largest Charlotte companies keeping $22 billion overseas

With Apple CEO Tim Cook's visit to Capitol Hill today, the country's attention is once again on U.S. companies keeping cash in foreign subsidiaries to avoid taxes.

Charlotte-based companies are in on the action as well -- to the tune of $22 billion in earnings kept overseas, an Observer review of securities filings shows.

Of course, the vast majority of that comes from Bank of America, the state's largest company by far and one with a large international presence.

Bank of America has $17.2 billion of undistributed earnings in off-shore subsidiaries, according to its latest annual filing. If it were brought back to the U.S., the Charlotte bank would have to pay $4.3 billion in taxes on it, the company estimated.

The figure isn't unusual for one of the nation's largest banks. Citigroup, for instance, has $42.6 billion of earnings offshore -- more than even Apple, filings show.

JPMorgan Chase, the largest U.S. bank by assets, keeps $25.1 billion of undistributed earnings in foreign units. Goldman Sachs comes in at $21.7 billion. Wells Fargo, with a smaller international presence, had $1.3 billion overseas.

Despite lawmakers' anger over this type of activity, none of it appears to be improper. Cook told senators Tuesday that Apple is complying with an outmoded tax system that disadvantages American companies, according to The New York Times.

It is unclear how much actual cash the undistributed earnings amount to. Companies that keep earnings in foreign units earn it there and say the money is reinvested there. But the figure is important in the discussion of U.S. tax policy and how companies should be allowed to move capital.

Among the next 10 largest companies in Charlotte and the surrounding towns, Duke Energy has the most in off-shore earnings, at $2 billion.

The rest of the top 10, according to their most recent annual filings:

SPX: $1.9 billion
Carlisle Cos.: $300.5 million
Babcock & Wilcox Co.: $271.1 million
Nucor Corp.: $176.5 million
Lowe's: $36 million
Snyder's-Lance: $8.1 million
Family Dollar: None reported
Sonic Automotive: None reported
Coca-Cola Bottling Co.: None reported

MetLife plans 500 Charlotte jobs by the end of the year

Insurance giant MetLife plans to have 500 jobs at its new Charlotte retail headquarters by the end of the year, executive vice president Eric Steigerwalt told investors at a conference Tuesday.

The other 800 will move in through 2014 and into early 2015, he said. For his part, Steigerwalt says he's moving to the city in five weeks, and he's bringing his entire leadership team with him.

He told the investors that he's been "very pleased" with his team's response to news of the move, which will consolidate nearly a dozen offices into a Ballantyne office building.

MetLife announced the Charlotte move in March with great fanfare. Another 1,300 or so jobs are going to Cary. It comes as the company aims to cut $600 million in annual costs by 2015.

The U.S. retail business sells individual life insurance policies and annuities.

(Steigerwalt talks about Charlotte at the 1 hour, 15 minute mark if you're interested in hearing).

Crandall Bowles re-elected to JPMorgan board

Despite a shareholder advisory firm's recommendation against it, Charlotte-area businesswoman Crandall Bowles was re-elected Tuesday to the JPMorgan Chase board of directors, according to vote results from news accounts.

Bowles became CEO of Fort Mill's Springs Industries Inc. from 1998 until it became part of a Brazilian textile manufacturer to become Springs Global. She remains chairwoman of the pieces of the company that remain independent, which are still known as Springs Industries.

She was one of six directors that advisory firm Glass, Lewis & Co. recommended be replaced.

There were two reasons. One, Bowles was a member of a board committee tasked with risk management that has come under scrutiny since that $6 billion "London Whale" trading loss last year. The firm also cited a conflict of interest because Springs Industries hired JPMorgan Chase to explore a sale of a Springs subsidiary.

All 11 directors were re-elected at the company's annual meeting Tuesday in Tampa. Shareholders also rejected a proposal that would have made CEO Jamie Dimon give up his chairmanship of the board.

Charlotte millionaires to grow 18 percent in 5 years

The number of millionaire households in Charlotte is forecast to grow 18.2 percent over the next five years, according to a Nielsen Co. finding cited Tuesday by Bank of America.

The Nielsen finding is from 2012.

Also Tuesday, U.S. Trust Bank of America Private Wealth Management, part of Bank of America, released the results of a survey of 711 high-net-worth people in the U.S. Those who participated in the survey have at least $3 million in investable assets.

The survey found, among other things, that many wealthy families are not planning for the long-term health care needs of their parents. Only 27 percent of baby boomers and 16 percent of those over age 68 said they ever expected that their parents might come to them for financial help.

Also, 60 percent of investors said asset growth is a higher priority than asset preservation. That's a reversal from a year ago, when 58 percent said asset protection was more important, according to survey results.

Phoenix Marketing International conducted the survey online in February and March, Bank of America said.

According to a report, released in February by the U.S. Census Bureau, 5.4 percent of Charlotte-area households are among the top 5 percent of the country's wealthiest, putting Charlotte at the 16th-lowest on the list. The finding was based on income received from January 2006 to November 2011, during which time the top 5 percent of U.S. households earned at least $191,469 a year.

Among 50 major U.S. markets, San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif., had the highest proportion of households - 15.9 percent - among the top 5 percent. Raliegh came in at 19th lowest, with 6 percent of

National mortgage settlement update due this morning

We'll get our latest look today at the progress Bank of America, Wells Fargo and three other major banks have made on a $25 billion state and federal mortgage servicing settlement.

Settlement monitor Joseph Smith, the former N.C. banking commissioner, is set to release his latest report at 10 a.m. He'll provide details on the dollar figure of mortgage relief each bank reports having provided to homeowners around the country -- including principal reduction, short sales and second-lien extinguishments.

In an annual securities filing earlier this month, Bank of America reported that it had "substantially fulfilled" its requirements under the settlement. The Charlotte bank has asked Smith's office for a confirmation of its progress, but it is unclear whether that will be released today as well.

Smith's latest report, released in February, disclosed that banks provided $350 million in relief to about 7,600 borrowers in North Carolina through the end of 2012. About 10 percent came from principal reduction. A activist group demonstrated in front of Bank of America's headquarters last week, calling for more principal forgiveness from the nation's banks.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Resolution to confirm Grace as banking commissioner moves to House

Ray Grace is getting closer to being confirmed as banking commissioner for North Carolina, with a resolution passing on first reading in the state House Monday.

Last week, the resolution, which confirms Gov. Pat McCrory's appointment of Grace, moved from the Senate to the House. On Monday, it was referred to the House's Committee on Banking, which is chaired by Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Charlotte Republican.

Grace was named acting banking commissioner after Joseph Smith, in February 2012, resigned to oversee the roughly $25 billion national mortgage settlement.

Officials with the North Carolina Bankers Association told the Observer earlier this year that they expect the General Assembly to confirm Grace.

If confirmed, Grace would serve the remainder of Smith's term, which ends March 31, 2015.

Alliance Bank expands commercial lending into Lake Norman

Woody Washam
Alliance Bank and Trust is pushing its commercial lending into the Lake Norman area with the hire of a market president for the area.

Woody Washam joins the Gastonia-based bank after spending nearly a decade in a similar role at CommunityOne Bank.

His hire is one of new Alliance CEO Don Harrison's first moves since taking the job last month. The move also reunites Harrison and Washam. Harrison most recently worked as executive vice president at CommunityOne.

"I've been sort of rebuilding the team here, reaching out to some folks I've worked with before," Harrison told the Observer. "It’s just sort of a loan production strategy to reach out into the areas where we can find a veteran banker."

Don Harrison
The hire also marks one of Alliance's few forays outside Gaston and Cleveland counties. The bank does not have any branches or office space in the area, and Washam is spending much of his time driving around calling on clients.

“This is sort of a new take on mobile banking” Harrison joked.

Harrison said Alliance does not have any plans for a retail presence around Lake Norman at this point, but did not rule it out in the future. He said the move should also not be seen as an indication the bank would look to grow into other submarkets in the area.

"We don’t have any particular plans to expand in other areas at this point," Harrison said. "This was sort of an obvious fit. We had a need, and he was available."

But he said Alliance is attracted by "high growth" in the area as the bank works to rebuild its portfolio. Last year, actions from both the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. required the bank to make plans to clean up problem loans and boost capital.

Wells Fargo gives $90,000 to Charlotte-area nonprofits

Wells Fargo said Monday that it will give 90 grants of $1,000 apiece to Charlotte-area nonprofits.

Recipients of the $90,000 in total grants range from the Carolina Raptor Center and a Charlotte cocker spaniel rescue group to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership and Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend.

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo said employees in the bank's branches picked the grant recipients.

"There’s never been a thriving bank in a struggling community," Kendall Alley, Wells Fargo community banking president for the Charlotte region, said in a statement. "We want to recognize these organizations for their partnership and for the positive impacts they are having in our communities.”

The grants come from the bank's Community Partners Program.

Here is the full list Wells Fargo provided Monday of organizations to receive funding:

A Bridge 4 Us Community Outreach
A Child's Place
Ace and TJ’s Grin Kids
American Cancer Society-Kannapolis-Team KPD
Another Choice for Black Children
Barium Springs Home For Children
Bethany Community Volunteer Fire Department
Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte
Boy Scouts of America Piedmont Council BSA No. 420
Bright Blessings
Capstone Recovery Center
Carolina Raptor Center
Carolina Veterans Commission
Catherine’s House Charlotte
Cocker Rescue of N.C.
Charlotte Dragon Boat Association
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership
Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend
Children’s Homes of Cleveland County
Chrysalis Autism Center
Community Relief Organization of Mount Holly
Council for Children’s Rights
Crisis Pregnancy Center
Crisis Pregnancy Center-West Gastonia
Cystic Fibrosis, Carolinas Chapter
End Time Mission, DBA as Hellfighters Ministries
Enlace Hispano 24 de Marzo, N.C. Latino Coalition
Gaston Community Action
Gaston Humane Society
Gaston Literary Council
Girls on the Run
Health Quest
Hemophilia of N.C.
Hope In Lancaster
Hope Match
Hope Youth Network
Horse “N” Around TRC
Hospice of Cleveland County
Hospice of Gaston County
Humane Society of Charlotte
Humane Society of Iredell
Humane Society of Union County
Ironstone Lane Rescue and Stables
Kids Rein
Lake Wylie YMCA
Lancaster Children’s Home
Literacy Council of Union County
Loaves & Fishes
Lucky Labs Rescue
Main Street Mission
Matthews Free Medical Clinic
Mecklenburg Aquatic Club Program Title Seeds of Hope
Metrolina Association for the Blind
Mi Familia
Mint Hill Historical Society
Muscular Dystrophy Association
Open Arms Youth Ranch
Opportunity House
Piedmont Residential Development Center
Pilgrims Inn
PKD Foundation
Presbyterian Health Care
Presbyterian Hospital Foundation: The Solomon House
Project HALO
Purple Promise Foundation
Rideability Therapeutic Riding Center
Roca de Salvacion
Rowan Helping Ministers
Salvation Army Center of Hope
Saving Grace Farm
SOUL 139
Special Olympics of North Carolina-Cabarrus County
Special Olympics of North Carolina-Lake Norman
Tender Hearts Girls Home
The Sandbox Group
Thompson Child & Family Focus
Time Out Youth
TOJ Foundation-Payton's Place
Union Diversified Industries
United Family Services, aka Safe Alliance
West Stanly Fire Department
YMCA of Greater Charlotte
University City YMCA
York County Christian Women's Job Corp.
York County Humane Society
Youth Educational Society of Charlotte

Friday, May 17, 2013

JPMorgan Chase to celebrate commercial lending team's move uptown

JPMorgan Chase will be rolling out the red carpet uptown next week to tout its growing commercial lending team in Charlotte and celebrate its move into the Hearst Tower -- right in Bank of America's backyard.

The open house Wednesday will be at the Foundation for the Carolinas building , just a few steps from Bank of America's headquarters. Gov. Pat McCrory and state commerce secretary Sharon Decker are scheduled to be in attendance, along with a number of local business executives.

They’ll be celebrating the move a day after JPMorgan Chase’s annual meeting. The bank has been under pressure to split its CEO and board chairman role, both now held by Jamie Dimon. Dimon himself has been under fire since the bank disclosed a $6 billion trading loss attributed to the so-called “London Whale.”

The New York bank has built its commercial lending team in Charlotte, which lends to businesses with more than $20 million in annual sale, significantly over the past two years. In August, JPMorgan Chase expanded the group from three members to eight. Two of them came from Bank of America, the rest from other parts of the bank.

Since then, Chase has added to the team and now has 15 bankers in the Charlotte group, a spokeswoman said. It's now moving into space in the 46-story Hearst Tower on Tryon Street.

The bank's Charlotte activities will continue Thursday, when JPMorgan is sponsoring a panel discussion on Charlotte's place in the global economy hosted by the Charlotte Business Journal at the Ritz-Carlton uptown.

Former Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, who's now a senior adviser at JPMorgan, is scheduled to give the keynote speech.

Action NC calls for principal reduction outside BofA headquarters

About 20 activists with progressive group Action NC rallied outside Bank of America's headquarters uptown Friday morning, calling for more principal reduction to delinquent homeowners underwater on their mortgages.

The group also released a report that estimates Charlotte families lost more than $1 billion in wealth through foreclosures in 2012. The brunt, the group says, has been borne by minority communities.

Here's community organizer Luis Rodriguez:
Later, Action NC regular Silvia Sanchez of Charlotte told her story of finally getting a loan modification with principal reduction from Bank of America, which she said allowed her to stay in her home:
The group also spoke in support of U.S. Rep. Mel Watt's nomination to be the new head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The Charlotte Democrat still must be confirmed. Here's Action NC executive director Pat McCoy with a recap of why the group was out on Friday, and thoughts on Watt:

At grand opening, Grameen America in Charlotte touts 300 borrowers

In just its first five months in Charlotte, microfinance nonprofit Grameen America says it has helped 300 people launch businesses that could lift them out of poverty.

In December, Grameen America gave out the first five loans from its new Charlotte branch, in Grameen's signature increments of $1,000 to $1,500.

Through this week, nonprofit leaders say it's lent more than $300,000. The money goes to buy a commercial sewing machine, for example, or to secure a chair at a hair styling salon. Food and catering businesses are also popular.

The nonprofit's staff at the International House on Central Avenue has also added three loan officers, with plans to grow to 10. Ultimately, Grameen hopes to have up to 4,500 borrowers in its first five years.

The organization celebrated its early success and formally launched its Charlotte office at a grand opening ceremony Thursday evening at Packard Place. The nonprofit's CEO, Stephen Vogel, was in town.

"With 300 borrowers in less than six months, Grameen America has demonstrated that there is unprecedented demand in Charlotte for microloans," he said in a statement. "Over the next few years we hope to reach every low-income woman in Charlotte with an entrepreneurial dream."

Grameen America is an expansion of the nonprofit started by Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh in the mid 1980s. The project eventually won the Nobel Prize.

Wells Fargo is the primary sponsor of the Charlotte location, with a $500,000 donation. Grameen borrowers also get a no-fee, no minimum balance checking account with the bank.

Here's an interview the Charlotte Chamber did with Grameen America CEO Stephen Vogel:

Thursday, May 16, 2013

PNC's western NC president on the bank's first year in Charlotte

It’s been a little more than a year since Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group entered Charlotte by acquiring RBC Bank’s Raleigh-based U.S. business.

The anniversary of the deal was in March. In September, PNC hired Weston Andress to oversee the bank’s western North Carolina operation, which is composed of 57 branches, including 17 in the Charlotte area.

On Wednesday, in an interview with the Observer, Andress talked about PNC’s progress in the Charlotte area over the past year and the bank’s plans for the coming months, including where it is considering opening branches. According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., PNC is No. 10 in the city of Charlotte when ranked by deposits.

One of the bank’s focuses has been building a wealth-management business in western North Carolina. RBC’s wealth-management operation was not part of the sale.

Andress said that, since the bank set foot in western North Carolina, the past year or so has "been as good as or better than we would have expected.”

But in a market flush with banks, PNC’s aware of the challenge.

“As you would have imagine, the competition is fierce, to say the least,” Andress said.

Below are edited excerpts from the interview:

On PNC’s initial focus since entering the western North Carolina market
Initially, given the lack of (PNC) branches and the lack of a retail network here, our business and focus has really been on the commercial and corporate sector. It’ll be nice when we have some more branches, because that’s additional advertising. But … the retail (banking industry) ... is really not very profitable, if profitable at all, right now.

We’re making much more headway on the commercial and the corporate and our wealth-management business, areas where we lend money but there’s also a heavy dose of sort of fee generation or fee services that … can increase our return. RBC had a very strong commercial banking business, and what we’ve tried to do is increase that to a scale that is more proportional to what PNC is used to and the kind of business we want to have here. We’ve also brought in a number of commercial corporate bankers to service our larger, middle-bank-market customers. That business is really well; you don’t go out and take customers away from what is some very good competition out there on a daily basis, but we’ve had our share of wins there.

On plans to add more branches in Charlotte
We expect to build some more. That’ll take time, and those branches that we do decide to build may not be the full-fledged branches that you see out there. They could take a different shape or form; all that’s still very much under consideration. You would have full-service branches and then maybe some other minibranches with interactive capabilities so that you can talk to somebody in the mortgage department or talk to a specialist in a particular area.

We’re looking right now at a number of different locations in areas around Charlotte, certainly south Charlotte, which would be a primary growth area, but in other areas as well. South Charlotte, obviously, is where the growth is for now.

On PNC’s role in giving back to the community
We’re very community-oriented, which to Charlotte, if you’re not community-oriented, you can forget about it. PNC is a do-the-right-thing company. We have an (early childhood) initiative called Grow Up Great: The company has a commitment of $300 million, over a 10-year period, to contribute in the various markets around the country. What we do in the community is well beyond that: We’ve given to the arts. We’ve given to community development. Just this year we’ve given away $1 million to various groups.

It’s hard to say, from a dollars perspective, that we are going to be a rival to BofA or Wells Fargo here. That’s a difficult proposition from where we sit. What we’re going to do is pick out certain areas where we can be very involved and play a meaningful role. Obviously, we want to be recognized and get our name out there, as BofA or Wells or anybody else would. We gave half a million dollars last year to Discovery Place, Community School of the Arts and the Bethlehem Center. We’re involved with most of the arts groups, whether it’s the Mint Museum or the Bechtler. That really puts us more in the position, I would say, of sponsoring programs and exhibits versus building buildings.

On whether there’s room for more super-regional banks in Charlotte
We think there’s room for us. Charlotte’s economy is growing. It’s not growing as fast as we might like. It still has a high unemployment rate. Part of that’s because people keep moving here. The job growth hasn’t kept up with all the people that continue to move here. We feel like this is a market … (that’s) very community- or philanthropically oriented, and that’s the kind of bank that PNC is. There’s clearly a role for another big bank, and maybe more, to step in and play meaningful roles in the community.

On building a wealth-management business in western North Carolina
We’ve built out a team, led by a guy by the name of Mike York, who had been at Wells Fargo wealth management. And he now has a full team in place of 12 or 13 people. We are slowly but surely – not really that slowly – building that business. The lending side of it comes a little faster than the asset-management side and some of the other sides of the business. We are introducing that to our existing customer base – commercial and corporate executives – as well as using some relationships we have that are really not part of our customer base right now.

We also have a (family wealth) group called the Hawthorn group … and there are a number of well-known families in this area that that group does business with. It’s not as if we’re starting up this thing from scratch. It’s a matter of taking what’s been successful elsewhere and growing it in this market. It’ll take time, but we’re going to get there.

On advertising plans
You’re likely to see more of that, rather than less advertising. We won’t sustain this forever. But certainly we’re trying to build momentum, and we’ve got some momentum. We’re trying to sustain that, for sure. The more branding, the better.

On PNC’s value proposition to corporate clients
It’s not price. Today competition is fierce, and loans are priced very aggressively. I would say that we are competing on service. We think we’ve got some of the best people in the business focused on the middle-market sector of the market. We’re trying to grow a middle-market commercial and corporate banking business. We’re aggressively trying to grow this franchise. So, our argument is they’re going to get more attention from us than they certainly would from one of the bigger guys.

We have spent the technology dollars on things, like treasury management, that some of the big guys have. But we have the decision-making and the focus that you would get from maybe one of the community bank competitors here. Our value proposition is we’re sort of the best of both worlds: a community-oriented bank with support from a very big parent that is aggressively trying to make this work. And, again, so far, so good.

On PNC in general
This is a company that’s been around for 160 years and really is about the size today of NationsBank and Wachovia and First Union back in the 1990s, almost in the heyday of Charlotte banking, when those institutions still had real cultures, personalities. There are a lot of personalities within PNC. Our recently retired CEO, Jim Rohr, who now is the chairman, really sort of established this culture. It seems that Bill Demchak is following in his footsteps and plans to keep a lot of that.

That’s what we’re trying to do in this market: We’re trying to take that type of culture and focus solely on the banking business. We don’t have aspirations to be out in the equity business or the bond business in a huge way. We do have some capital markets operations in the bond area. But we’re not going to go out and buy an investment bank, in all likelihood.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

NewBridge Bank unwinds from federal bailout

Greensboro-based NewBridge Bank said Wednesday it has taken the final step to unwind from the federal financial crisis-era bailout program.

A month ago, the bank's $52 million preferred stock investment from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program was sold at auction. NewBridge has now spent $7.8 million to repurchase the warrant the U.S. Treasury held to buy common stock in the bank.

North Carolina banks with bailout investments still on their books have been paying them back or seeing them auctioned to private investors at a rapid clip since the Treasury said it wanted to get out of the program last year.

NewDominion Bank rolls out mobile check deposits

Charlotte-based NewDominion Bank announced Wednesday that its business customers will now be able to deposit checks using their smartphones.

Individual customers have had access to the popular technology since last year. A number of the larger banks, like Bank of America, Wells Fargo and BB&T, have rolled out the service over the past year as well.

Essentially, you take a photo of the front and back of your check using a smartphone app to deposit the money.

In NewDominion's business offering, multiple users will have the ability to deposit checks to a bank account. Any deposits before 5 p.m. will be processed for the next business day.

Wells Fargo bests Bank of America on mobile-banking scorecard

Wells Fargo's mobile banking experience scores higher than Bank of America's, according to a ranking, released Wednesday, of 15 major banks.

JPMorgan Chase topped them all, though, on the spring scorecard produced by San Mateo, Calif.-based Keynote, which launched the rankings in 2011. Chase has come in at No. 1 for three years in a row.

Banks were evaluated based on five modes: text, mobile Web and iPhone, Android and BlackBerry apps. Of the modes, BB&T was named a leader for text banking and Bank of America for its Android app.

Chase performed best in two of four categories, functionality and ease of use, while Wells Fargo led in privacy and security.

The scorecard comes out twice a year. Susan Fould, manager of the scorecard, said it helps banks improve their mobile-banking platforms.

"They use it to benchmark themselves and to understand where they have gaps," she said.

She said one big takeaway from the spring scorecard is that banks are improving the experience of using mobile-banking technology.

"There's more functionality," she said.

According to Keynote, which specializes in Internet and mobile cloud testing and monitoring, the number of mobile-banking consumers is expected to hit 1 billion by 2017.

LendingTree's new ad campaign targets banks' 'BS'

A green muppet-looking character says he smells "BS" -- that's "bank speak," you guys -- as he tags along with a mortgage-seeker in Charlotte-based LendingTree's new ad campaign.

The mortgage-shopping company is making a huge investment in the new marketing, parent company CEO Doug Lebda said during its quarterly earnings results Tuesday. Sales and marketing expense jumped 60 percent in the quarter as prepared to roll out the ads, which will air nationally.

"I'm extremely pleased with the final product there, and I'm confident the message will resonate with
consumers," Lebda told analysts. "Our brand is a huge asset for us."

The company is still keeping its slogan -- "When banks compete, you win."

Industry publication Ad Age breaks down the campaign a bit more here.

Here's their second ad:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

N.C. credit unions lobbying Washington this week

A dozen North Carolina credit union executives are in Washington D.C. this week, spending most of their time lobbying lawmakers who are dealing with tax reform.

As not-for-profit entities, credit unions are exempt from corporate taxes. Banks aren't too happy with that, especially as credit unions have grown larger and expanded into more services. The tax exemption has also been raised by House committees and public policy groups working on tax reform.

Credit Union National Association CEO Bill Cheney has said keeping that tax exemption is his organization's top priority.

North Carolina's credit unions will be stressing their "critical difference in structure and purpose," N.C. Credit Union League spokesman Jeff Hardin told the Observer.

They'll also lobby on financial capital requirements, regulations and efforts to raise caps on their small business lending.

NewBridge Bank opens branch in SouthPark

Greensboro-based NewBridge Bank said Tuesday that its first full-service retail branch in Charlotte was opened in a soft launch May 1.

The 6,000-square-foot branch is in SouthPark, at 5925 Carnegie Blvd. The bank had announced plans for the branch in February, but it did not provide a specific opening date at the time.

The community bank already operates a Charlotte loan-production office focused on commercial lending and mortgage banking. NewBridge has said it plans to relocate that operation, at 6000 Fairview Road, to the full-service branch.

In an interview with the Observer earlier this year, David Barksdale, then NewBridge's chief banking officer but now its chief strategy officer, said the full-service Charlotte location will not be a standard retail branch.

"There will not be a drive-through lane, and there will not be a traditional teller counter," he said. "With the change in technology in today's banking world, and the diminishing importance of a retail branch, we’re putting a new prototype in Charlotte that will be more of an office look than a retail branch look."

Monday, May 13, 2013

Wells Fargo eyes W.T Harris for minibranch

Wells Fargo is considering putting one of its new minibranches in Charlotte, but it would not be open to the general public.

Kendall Alley, the bank's Charlotte-area president, said Monday that Wells might open the branch in its Customer Information Center off West W.T Harris Boulevard, where 10,000 Wells Fargo employees work. As part of a possible pilot project, the minibranch would go in the center and be available only to Wells Fargo employees who work there, Alley said.

"That's a great spot for piloting ideas," he said. "Our team members have no hesitation to give us feedback whenever they think we need to do something better."

Last month, Wells Fargo unveiled the new branches, which it described as having a "neighborhood bank format." The bank picked Washington, D.C., as the test market for the first branch, which is about one-third the size of a typical Wells Fargo branch, or "store," as the bank refers to them.

The smaller branches are being introduced as Wells Fargo tries to cut costs through reducing the amount of space it uses. Last year, the bank decreased the amount of space it occupies by 4.5 million square feet, according to its annual report. Since 2008, the company said, it has reduced its square footage by 16 million square feet.

At roughly 1,000 square feet, Wells' new type of branch is much smaller than its traditional branches, which range from 3,000 to 4,000 square feet.

"That store requires less space," Alley said. "But we feel like it's got an awful lot of ways that we can have great conversations with our customers.

"I would hope that we would have a lot of those in the Charlotte area in the future, whether that's one year, four years, five years. Some of that depends on traffic patterns in the stores."

Alley, like many others in the banking industry, says there's still a need for branches, even though customers are increasingly using online and mobile banking.

"We still have more than sufficient volume in the stores to support the stores we have," Alley said.

Fifth Third builds motorsports financing team in Charlotte

When Tom Heiks moved to Charlotte three years ago, he had never been to a NASCAR race. At this point, the CEO of Fifth Third Bank's North Carolina affiliate is a regular. His wife, Heiks jokes, is an even bigger fan.

But the sport has also turned into a bit of business for Fifth Third, Heiks told the Observer on Monday. Over the past year, the bank has built up a team and strategy around financing and serving the state's $6 billion motorsports industry.

Such a vertical isn't particularly novel in the banking world. SunTrust has a motorsports team, for instance. And Bank of America became the "Official Bank of NASCAR" in 2007, a partnership that included commercial lending as well as branded retail products.

But the Fifth Third team is one of the bank's relatively few clusters within its commercial bank. Health care, energy and manufacturing are notable others.

The focus stems from Fifth Third's commercial lending expansion in the state since it acquired Charlotte-based First Charter in 2007. The bank brought on some new bankers with experience in motorsports, who approached executives about creating a concentration, Heiks said.

It also comes from the partnership with Concord-based Roush Fenway Racing the bank entered into last May. Fifth Third was the primary sponsor for Matt Kenseth’s No. 17 car in four races last year -- complete with the bank's blue logo on the hood. Fifth Third is sponsoring Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the same number car this year.

NASCAR makes its way back to Charlotte this weekend with the Sprint All-Star Race on Saturday. Yes, Heiks says he'll  be there.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Uwharrie Capital Corp. profit falls

Net income for shareholders fell 7 percent in the first quarter at Albemarle-based Uwharrie Capital Corp. from the same period a year ago as the interest payments due on preferred stock rose, the bank reported Thursday,

Setting those aside, though, the parent company of Cabarrus Bank and Trust, Bank of Stanly and Anson Bank and Trust increased profit to $763,000 from $700,000 as mortgage banking revenue increased.

Those preferred stock payments will be cut nearly in half in the coming quarters. It repaid three-quarters of its Troubled Asset Relief Program federal bailout investment last month. Uwharrie plans to pay back the rest in the next 18 months.

The company is also in the middle of combining and rebranding its three banks under one name. The change will save an estimated $750,000 to $1.2 million per year in overhead and compliance costs.

Wells Fargo sees need for more small-business bankers

Wells Fargo said it will increase the number of bankers who work with small businesses in its U.S. branches this year, after boosting its number of such specialists last year.

But the bank is not saying how many employees it plans to add or the markets where they will be deployed, leaving it unclear whether any of the hires will be made in the Charlotte region.

From March 2012 to this past March, Wells Fargo’s Carolinas branches added 118 bankers whose focus includes working with small businesses, spokesman Josh Dunn said.

Wells Fargo’s announcement, made this week, comes after the bank reported that its first-quarter business-banking activity strengthened compared with the same quarter the year before. Year over year, the bank saw an uptick in business checking accounts and credit card activity and loans to small businesses.

According to the bank, it grew the number of bankers who work with consumers and small businesses in its U.S. branches by more than 1,500 from March 2012 to this past March. The bank said it was an increase of 5 percent.

Last year, Wells Fargo said it lent $16 billion to small businesses, an increase of about 30 percent from 2011. The bank defines small businesses as those with annual revenues of less than $20 million.

Wells is not the only big bank adding small-business specialists or reporting a rise in lending to such businesses.

In January, Bank of America said it had reached its goal of hiring more than 1,000 small-business bankers. The bank said it lent $8.7 billion to small businesses last year, 28 percent more than the year before. In its 2012 report, the bank said the 1,000 small-business bankers will “help bring our small-business expertise closer to our clients in local markets.”

Smaller banks expect to see a rise in small-business lending, too. Raleigh-based VantageSouth Bank is relocating its government guaranteed lending operation from Salisbury to Charlotte as it plans for an increase in Small Business Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture Business and Industry program lending.

Jason Ferreira, a Wells Fargo personal banker who works in Charlotte, said one driver of small-business lending at his branch has been middle-aged people starting businesses, such as consulting firms. This year, he said, he expects his branch to see as much as a 25 percent increase in small-business activity over 2012, thanks to rising demand for small-business loans.

“I can tell you from my experience that the appetite is huge right now,” said Ferreira, who works in a branch on Rea Road.

The bank, though, has recently raised questions about the demand for small-business loans. In its 2012 report, Wells Fargo said applications for such loans “remained below what we have typically seen at this stage of an economic recovery.”

In North Carolina, Wells Fargo’s U.S. Small Business Administration lending surpasses that of all other banks. From October to the end of April, Wells Fargo’s SBA loans totaled $25.2 million, according to the SBA.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Bank of America shareholders want bigger dividend, better earnings power

While Bank of America's annual shareholders meeting Wednesday felt at times like a nonstop parade of coal industry critics, also in the audience were shareholders who had other concerns.

The Observer talked to some of those shareholders before the meeting at the Charlotte Marriott Center City hotel to see what brought them to the event and how they feel about the stock as an investment.

Below is what two of them told the newspaper:


Goozner, 67, who sat in the bank of the meeting room, said it was his first time attending a Bank of America shareholders meeting.

On the one hand, he had good things to say about the stock. On the other, he said he wished the quarterly dividend were higher than 1 cent per share. He said his octogenarian mother-in-law, who owns Bank of America shares, is in a retirement community and could especially use a higher dividend.

"My poor mother-in-law," he said. "She's a retired teacher. She's relying on, of course, Social Security, a pension from North Carolina. She also has some money with the teachers credit union. And that's going to be depleted, obviously. She's in her 80s. She's going to last longer than her money."

In March, the bank said it will repurchase up to $5 billion in common stock, rather than raise the dividend, after winning approval from the Federal Reserve for its capital plan.

"I want to see the bank raise their dividend," said Goozner, whose Bank of America investment includes 8,000 shares of common stock. He also said he owns shares of the bank's preferred stock.

Goozner said he'd like to see the dividend increased to about 6 cents a quarter.

"That would be a good base to start raising the dividend," he said.

He said some of his family members have sold their Bank of America shares. But he's been hanging on.

"The stock itself has been outperforming the market," he said. "I think it's definitely on the upside. I really see the risk-reward ratio highly favorable on the reward side right now."


Edwards, who drove into Charlotte from Missouri Tuesday night to attend the meeting, said he came to find out where Bank of America was headed.

He's a former hospice administrator who now works on a 200-acre family farm, which he plans to sell to focus on his consulting firm for hospices.

Edwards said he bought shares of Bank of America stock in 2010, 2011 and 2012. On his mind Wednesday: the litigation that has dogged the bank and reduced its earnings power.

"Earnings power, it's not where we'd like it to be, obviously, as a shareholder," he said. "The litigation ... that's affected the bottom line every quarter and has for several years."

"Frankly, if litigation was behind the company, it (the stock) would pop up to ... probably between tangible book and net book value. I still think it's undervalued."

Edwards said Moynihan has done as good job as CEO.

"He inherited a mess," he said.

For now, he said, he doesn't plan to by more Bank of America shares.

"I've got as much or more than I should have already. If the stock price gets a little higher, I'll probably lighten up over time to diversity a little bit more."

Second Falfurrias fund halfway to investment goal

The latest Falfurrias Capital Partners fund has crossed the halfway mark toward its $200 million goal, according to a securities filing Wednesday.

The Charlotte private equity firm led by former Bank of America executives, including long-time CEO Hugh McColl, officially disclosed the fund in 2011. It's now raised $105.7 million.

The second offering follows an initial fund launched in 2006. That first $97 million fund has made a half-dozen investments so far.

The firm focuses on middle-market companies in the Southeast.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Bank of America says it has 'substantially fulfilled' settlement relief

Bank of America believes it has "substantially fulfilled" its requirements to reduce principal, lower interest rates and otherwise help homeowners as part of the large-scale mortgage servicing settlement last year, the Charlotte bank said in a quarterly securities filing Tuesday.

The bank had been required to pay a total of  $11.8 billion, including cash payments to regulators and mortgage relief directly to borrowers -- the most of any of the five banks in the $25 billion settlement.

Settlement monitor Joseph Smith, a former N.C. banking commissioner, must certify banks' completion of their requirements. He's already done so for Ally Financial, which had the smallest portion of the settlement.

Bank of America was not immediately available for comment.

The bank did not provide a final breakdown of where relief went in its securities filing, which cites activity through March 31.

Smith's latest published report, which covered relief through Dec. 31, said Bank of America had reported a total of $26.8 billion in relief. Not every form of mortgage help receives dollar-for-dollar credit under the settlement.

In the filing, Bank of America also notes that it may be subject to more scrutiny and litigation related to its mortgage servicing. On Monday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced his office would sue Bank of America and Wells Fargo over alleged violations of the settlement's new servicing rules.

Update: According to a statement from Smith's office, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase have all asked for a review of their progress so far. That will be released "in the coming weeks," Smith said in a statement. The next public report will be May 14.

Charlotte food service company sold, McColl Partners advises

Charlotte-based contract food service company TrustHouse Services has been sold to Parisian catering company Elior SCA, according to an announcement Tuesday from investment banking firm McColl Partners, which advised on the deal. Financial terms were not disclosed.

TrustHouse was created in 2008 through a partnership between former Compass Group CEO Michael J. Bailey and private equity group Gryphon Investors. 

The two parties purchased three regional contract food service companies that operated in a total of 22 states. The firm then began targeting other acquisitions in the food service sector at schools, hospitals and prisons. McColl Partners advised on those deals as well.

Operations expanded into 45 states and core earnings quadrupled, McColl Partners said.

Anti-coal activists address Bank of America

A handful of anti-Bank of America protesters with the Rainforest Action Network gathered in uptown Charlotte on Tuesday morning ahead of Wednesday's annual shareholders meeting to address the bank's funding of coal projects. Here are a few of their thoughts.

BB&T expects 'minimal' Charlotte job losses in restructuring

BB&T expects job losses in Charlotte to be "minimal" as the bank begins restructuring, Charlotte metro regional president Wes Beckner told the Observer on Tuesday.

The restructuring comes as BB&T turns its focus to cost savings this year, mirroring many of its peers that have already done so. Bank of America has cut nearly 27,000 jobs since beginning a cost-cutting initiative in fall 2011 known as Project New BAC. Wells Fargo, too, has reorganized some of its operations.

BB&T had been divided into 37 regions, a number that will be cut to 23. One of those regions will remain based in Charlotte.

Its territory, however, will expand from a territory roughly encompassing Mecklenburg County and its bordering counties. It will now stretch north into Hickory and west as far as Haywood and Jackson counties. Beckner will continue to lead the region. Former city executives will become market presidents, Beckner said.

BB&T, based in Winston-Salem, employs more than 1,500 in Charlotte, many in an uptown office tower. The bank hasn't given any figure for how many jobs will be cut company-wide as part of the restructuring.

"When you combine regions, there will be some redundancy," Beckner said. "The impact here will be very minimal. ... We’ll take advantage of attrition over time to absorb it."

Wake Forest students pick Warren Buffett's brain

For many college students majoring in business, the name Warren Buffett probably comes up in the course of their studies.

But few business students get the chance a handful attending Wake Forest University did Monday, when they were picked to ask the prominent investor a question during a live segment on Fox Business Network.

Fox allowed master of business administration students to pick the brain of Buffett, who was in a Fox studio, while the students were filmed as they questioned him from what appeared on television to be their classrooms. Students at New York's Columbia Business School also participated.

Alex Sturges, a student at Winston-Salem-based Wake Forest, asked Buffett, 82, what keeps him "coming to the office every day" after already achieving as much as he has.

"I am doing what I love the most in life," Buffett said.

Buffett added that he advises students "to try and find the job they would have if they were independently rich. And I've found that job.

"I could be doing all kinds of other things, but I would so much rather be coming to the office every day than sitting on a yacht."

Monday, May 6, 2013

New York to sue BofA, Wells over mortgage settlement violations

The New York attorney general's office is set to announce lawsuits against Bank of America and Wells Fargo, claiming documented violations of the sweeping mortgage settlement between states and five big banks last year, according to an announcement from the office.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said his office has found 339 violations between the two banks. It is unclear what violations what type they are. The $25 billion settlement, reached last year, included a slate of more than 300 new servicing rules each bank is required to follow.

But thousands of complaints have continued to pour into the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The Observer found earlier this year that banks have continued some practices the settlement was intended to eliminate, like "dual tracking" homeowners through loan modifications and foreclosure processes at the same time.

The suits could pave the way for other state attorneys general to take similar actions. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper was one of the chief architects of the settlement. Former N.C. banking commissioner Joseph Smith, who is now overseeing the settlement, is scheduled to a release a progress report on the banks' adherence to the settlement later this spring.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Wells Fargo economist: Housing in 'a little bit of a bubble'

Charlotte and the rest of the U.S. may be due for a slow-down in home prices toward the end of the year if long-term interest rates rise, Wells Fargo senior economist Mark Vitner said Friday morning -- which he expects to happen.

Investors have been pouring money into pools that invest in single-family homes, drawn by their 5 percent to 6 percent returns at a time when interest rates are at record lows. At this point, housing has become "a little bit of a bubble," Vitner told a group of Wells commercial real estate bankers and clients at a breakfast event.

Vitner described a meeting with a young investor out of New York City, who came to Vitner's Charlotte office to talk about where he should buy houses in Charlotte, Raleigh and Atlanta with the $100 million he had raised.

"I asked him, 'Do you even own a house?'" Vitner said. He did not. Later, Vitner related, "He was asking, 'Now, where is Ballantyne?,'" implying that the capital flowing in to home-buying isn't necessarily the most knowledgeable about the housing markets it wants to invest in.

That could soon change. Vitner said with inflation risk low, the Federal Reserve will likely continue to keep interest rates low. But by the end of the year, he expects the Fed to scale back on its purchase of securities -- known as quantitative easing.

When that happens, the rate on the 10-year U.S. Treasury could rise to around 3 percent. That will make riskier housing purchases less attractive. It won't be enough to produce a bust, he said, but will make price increases slower.

Other notes from Vitner's talk:

On today's jobs numbers: Employers added 165,000 jobs in April, a Friday report showed, beating expectations. Vitner said that the bulk of those jobs are coming from part-time workers in the leisure, hospitality and retail industry. They're not full-time hires because of the upcoming costs of health care, he said. Still, "The economy doesn't look as precarious as it did yesterday."

On consumer confidence: The affuluent are feeling a lot better about the economy than the middle-class, Vitner said. That's reflected in retail results in local markets. The top mall in a market is doing well. The No. 3 mall is "sucking wind." In Charlotte, Vitner said SouthPark Mall is doing great while Carolina Place in Pineville is struggling.

On the local economy in general: "The economy here is gaining some momentum," Vitner said, and growing between 1.5 and two times as fast as the nation as a whole. Both Charlotte and Raleigh are in the top five fastest growing metro areas since the 2010 census, and Charlotte is the largest on the list.

South Carolina boom town: Charleston."If there's an economy that's closest to booming in the South, it's Charleston." Just one example: Boeing's put a billion dollars into the city since 2009, and will put another billion in the coming years.

Bank of the Ozarks No. 1 for failed-bank bids

Bank of the Ozarks is the No. 1 submitter of bids for failed banks, according to a report by SNL Financial.

The Little Rock, Ark.-based bank, which opened its first full-service branch in Charlotte in March, submitted 61 disclosed bids to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. from Jan. 1, 2009, to April 26, according to the SNL findings released Thursday.

But only seven of the bank's submissions were winning bids.

Also, Bank of the Ozarks' 61 bids were almost double the number of submissions by the No. 2 bidder, Conway, Ark.-based Centennial Bank, which bid on 35 failed banks.

Raleigh-based First-Citizens Bank also made the list, coming in at No. 7 with 17 bids on failed banks, leading to six acquisitions.

Among the failed banks Bank of the Ozark has acquired: Bluffton, S.C.-based Woodlands Bank, which Bank of the Ozarks took over in 2010.

Bank of the Ozarks has had a loan-production office in Charlotte since 2001, but it didn't have a full-service branch in the city until March, when it opened a two-story, 11,050-square-foot branch at 4200 Park Road. It's only other North Carolina branch is in Wilmington, a market it entered when it acquired Woodlands Bank.

Bank of the Ozarks also plans to open a one-story branch in Cornelius at 19811 W. Catawba Ave. Bank of the Ozarks submitted bids for 19 of the 51 failed-bank deals in 2012.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

BB&T, IRS trial ends but no still no ruling

BB&T's court fight with the Internal Revenue Service ended last month, but the winner remains unclear, BB&T disclosed Thursday in a securities filing.

The Winston-Salem-based bank, the second-largest in North Carolina by deposits, said the trial's last day was April 2 but no court decision has been handed down.

At issue is $892 million in penalties and other related payments BB&T made to the IRS in March 2010 after the agency said the bank shouldn't have taken advantage of foreign tax credits. BB&T sued the IRS in U.S. Court for Federal Claims to get the money back.

The type of tax credit at the heart of the lawsuit has also come under scrutiny in cases involving Wells Fargo and the Bank of New York Mellon Corp.

After a judged ruled in February against BNY Mellon's use of the credits, BB&T, bracing for the possibility of a similar ruling, recorded an expense of $281 million in the first quarter of this year.

BB&T, though, remains confident about its odds in prevailing, saying it's raised points not considered by the U.S. Tax Court in the BNY Mellon case.

Wells Fargo employees involved in military to tend flag at tournament

Wells Fargo, which last year reached a settlement with the federal government over claims that it violated laws that protect military members when they're on active duty, said Thursday that it is celebrating National Military Appreciation Month, which is this month.

The bank said its employees who are active-duty reservists or National Guard members will be tending the 17th-hole flag at the Wells Fargo Championship. The hole will have a U.S. flag, the bank said, adding that the employees will tend the flag Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

In golf, tending the pin, or flag, involves a person holding a flag in the hole to help the putter see where to hit the ball.

Wells Fargo, as part of the federal settlement, agreed to review its foreclosures from January 2006 to April 4, 2012, to make sure military members weren't foreclosed on in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

Among other things, the act prohibits foreclosures on the homes of members of the military while they are on active duty unless court approval is given to the lender.

Wells Fargo is not the only bank that's been scrutinized by the federal government over concerns about compliance with the act.

Last month, the U.S. Justice Department said Bank of America will pay roughly $36.8 million to military members whose homes were illegally foreclosed upon from 2006 to 2010. In that same announcement, the department said it is conducting an ongoing review of Bank of America, Wells Fargo and three other big banks - Citibank, JPMorgan Chase and Ally Financial - to pinpoint violations of the act.

Bank of America as of Thursday afternoon had not issued any press releases on what it might be doing for National Military Appreciation Month, but in an email a spokeswoman said the bank's support of the military "is an ongoing commitment."

Edward Jones plots expansion in Charlotte

Investment firm Edward Jones plans to more than double its number of financial advising offices in Charlotte, part of the St. Louis-based company's national recruitment push.

The company now has 38 branch offices in the city, each of which employs a financial adviser and an administrator. Edward Jones aims to grow to 87 branch offices in Charlotte, which would have 174 employees.

Nationwide, the company is about a year into a push to boost its financial adviser numbers from about 12,500 to 20,000.

"We see that there’s a huge need out there for what we do," said Tim Portelance, Edward Jones regional  for Charlotte.

He said the company is not targeting any areas of the city in particular, but said that a number of areas across Charlotte could support an Edward Jones. New hires generally get significant leeway in determining where new offices are set up.

Edward Jones is putting an emphasis on recruiting military veterans who have recently left the service. The company offers training and compensation packages to encourage them to join.

The financial advising industry is growing rapidly as Baby Boomers reach retirement age. Over the next decade, employment is expected to increase by 32 percent, much faster than the average across all professions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Milwaukee-based wealth management and capital markets firm Baird has also eyed Charlotte for an expansion. It added two new advisers in February and told the Observer it plans to nearly double its presence in the city over the next few years, from 13 to 25 advisers.