Bankers to go California dreamin’

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Not sure if the Federal Reserve uses it as an economic gauge, but one measure of the optimism of the banking economy is the location of the lenders’ annual convention.

When the 2007-09 recession ravaged loan portfolios, prompting significant industry losses and bailouts from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program, North Carolina bankers settled for some of the Carolinas’ great resorts to hold their annual confabs. Those were days when some resorts stopped calling themselves resorts and trade associations downscaled their meetings amid investor anger over sharp stock-price declines. President Obama and other politicians criticized any excessive spending by bank brass. The hospitality industry took a big hit.

These days, the mood has changed, it would seem. The N.C. Bankers Association told its members last week it is heading to San Diego’s Hotel del Coronado for the four-day meeting in June. Rooms cost $300 to $400 a night, while the convention costs $650. Add a $500 airline ticket, bring along one’s spouse or partner, and the affair still probably costs less than a Super Bowl 50 experience in northern California enjoyed by Carolina Panthers’ fans. (Enjoyed until the game started, sadly.)

We’d prefer the bankers would stick to our hospitality friends down at the beach or mountains or Sandhills. We embrace Gov. Pat McCrory’s tourism slogan, “Nothing Compares” to North Carolina.

But in fairness, a number of the state’s banks have enjoyed good years, so maybe it’s time to check out California, where the economy has rebounded faster in recent years than most critics of tax-hiking Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown anticipated.

At least a dozen publicly traded banks based in North Carolina outpaced the S&P 500 index over the past year. (See listing below.) The leader was Greensboro-based Carolina Bank Holdings – its stock reached a record high last fall and has increased sixfold since trading for less than $2.50 in 2011. CommunityOne and NewBridge Bancorp management may also have reason to party, given how both are being acquired at much higher prices than many bank analysts expected a few years back.

Of course, stocks of some of the state’s biggest and/or best-run banks sank over the past year, including Bank of America, BB&T, First Citizens and Wells Fargo. Their investors might prefer seeing the state convention held at the Grandover or Blockade Runner, but no doubt each company has much better years ahead.

So have your West Coast fun, banker friends. But when that the economic tide inevitably turns again, we’ll be looking for you on the boardwalk, on the Pinehurst veranda or on the mountaintop. There really is nothing finer than to be in Carolina.


Banks with positive returns over the past year:

Carolina Bank Holdings (CLBH) 54%

CommunityOne (COB) 27% (Being acquired by Capital Bank Financial Corp.)

Asheville Savings Bank (ASBB) 24%

Bank of North Carolina (BCNC) 24%

NewBridge Bancorp (NBBC) 21% (Being acquired by Yadkin Financial)

Yadkin (YDKN) 11%

HomeTrust BancShares (HTBI) 11%

Entegra (ENFC) 9%

First Bank (FBNC) 8%

First South Bancorp (FSBK) 3%

Peoples Bank (PEBK) 2%


Negative returns over the past year:

First Citizens (FCNCA) -10%

Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (SPY) -11

Park Sterling (PSTB) -11%

Wells Fargo (WFC)  -15%

BB&T (BBT)  -18%

Bank of America (BAC)  -28%

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