Associated Banc-Corp. hits growth targets, reports CRA upgrade

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Associated Banc-Corp. in Green Bay, Wis., lived up to billing in the first quarter.

In an investor presentation in February, Associated executives said they hoped to achieve loan growth in the mid-to-high single digits, increase net interest margin, limit the growth of noninterest expenses to 1% and keep the loan-to-deposit ratio under 100%.

It did all that in the quarter, resulting in a 35% year-over-year increase in net income to $54 million, the company said Thursday.

The $29 billion-asset Associated reported a 6% increase in average loans to $21 billion; an efficiency ratio of 64.89%, compared with the 67.44% at March 31, 2015; and a net interest margin of 2.84%, up 3 basis points from a year earlier.

Associated’s noninterest spending held roughly steady at $173.7 million.

It also tallied 4% deposit growth, which pushed the loan-to-deposit ratio down a percentage point to 92%.

“We’re strongly positioned and fully committed to a path of continued disciplined growth,” President and CEO Philip B. Flynn said in a press release. “We look forward to delivering against our full year guidance."

Like a number of other regional banks, Associated reported improved credit quality, including its energy loan book, which has been a source of difficulty. The company said energy loans declined 17% to $625 million, but potential problem and nonaccrual loans fell even faster, dropping 24% to $312 million.

Overall, nonaccrual loans declined 9% to $260 million, or 1.29% of total loans. The drop in net chargeoffs was steeper; they fell 65% to $6 million. That improvement permitted Associated to reduce its quarterly provision for loan losses to $9 million, compared with $20 million for the same quarter in 2016.

Perhaps the only downside came in the area of noninterest income, which fell 4% from the first quarter of 2016 to $80 million. For all of 2017, Associated is projecting a $20 million decline in noninterest income, but it expects gains in net interest income to more than offset the difference.

Along with its financial results, Associated reported that its Community Reinvestment Act rating, which had been downgraded to “needs improvement” last fall, was upgraded to “satisfactory” after its most recent CRA examination.

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