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Ohio’s biggest banks see strong loan growth in 2013

As much as 5 percent average loan growth in 2013 at the three biggest banks headquartered in Ohio reflects an improved comfort level of business owners to invest in their companies, one bank president said.

“Our clients are showing positive signs that they feel it might be time to invest and we do see increased activity in terms of expansion requests,” said Kevin Jones, interim president of the Southern Ohio/Kentucky region of Huntington Bancshares.

Improved loan demand seen by Fifth Third Bancorp, Huntington and KeyCorp in 2013 helped offset declining mortgage banking revenues and the effect of continued low interest rates. Mortgage banking income shot up at double- and triple-digit rates for these banks in 2012 as homeowners took advantage of record low interest rates and refinanced. That activity is now shifting to more new home purchases as the ability wanes for borrowers to refinance to lower rates.

The regional banks based in Ohio have also focused on cutting costs by closing underperforming bank branches and reducing employee counts.

Additionally, financial results were helped by better credit quality — fewer bad loans written off and fewer delinquencies.

Cincinnati-based Fifth Third, southwest Ohio’s largest bank by deposits, reported on Jan. 23 record 2013 profits of $1.8 billion available to common shareholders. Boosting the bottom line were the lowest level of net charge-offs since 2007, or bad loans written off as uncollectible. The end-of-year average balance of $88 billion loaned out across Fifth Third’s 12-state footprint grew 5 percent from a year ago.

“Sources of customer uncertainty related to the economy, budget battles, etc., have diminished and that makes us hopeful that 2014 will provide a stronger backdrop to economic activity and borrowing than 2013,” Fifth Third Chief Executive Officer Kevin Kabat told investors on an end of January conference call reviewing results.

After reporting record-high profits for 2012 of $641 million, Huntington’s 2013 earnings were relatively flat. Huntington on Jan. 16 said net income for 2013 was nearly $639 million. Average loan growth of 4 percent as of the end of 2013 to nearly $42 billion included 25 percent year-over-year increases in auto lending and 8 percent increases in commercial and industrial loans.

Columbus-based Huntington’s footprint crosses six states.

Called a significant year for Cleveland’s Key, bank profits from continuing operations picked up in 2013 to $847 million. The Cleveland bank saw last year similar trends of 3.4 percent average loan growth to $53.6 billion outstanding at year-end, and improved credit quality.

In June 2012, Key set a goal to cut operating costs by $150 to $200 million. Sixty-two branches closed in 2013 across the bank’s 14-state footprint; a total 81 branches have closed since 2012. Those and other cuts are expected to save the bank $241 million a year.

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