Florida's BankUnited Financial Corp. lost $11 million in the first quarter as it shed a large part of its struggling mortgage operation.
The loss, which equals 61 cents per share, stems from a $15 million restructuring charge the Coral Gables-based thrift took for the quarter. The company earned $2.1 million, or 13 cents per share, during the same period in 1998.
BankUnited, Florida's largest institution with $3.9 billion of assets, said it plans to shift its focus to commercial lending.
"After a careful review, we have made some hard decisions relating to our business lines," said Alfred R. Camner, chairman and chief executive officer of the thrift.
The company has been hurt by early repayments of residential mortgage loans it bought from the secondary market. It is charging off $14.8 million to account for the accelerated prepayments.
Mr. Camner said the company will "reduce our dependence on the purchase of residential mortgages" and will stop buying certain types of adjustable- rate mortgages altogether.
Adjustable-rate mortgages made up 64.5% of the $3.1 billion of loans BankUnited originated or bought during 1998, according to the company's annual report.
Also, BankUnited has discontinued its indirect consumer lending and tax certificate investing businesses.
These businesses will be replaced by more bank-like enterprises. Medhi Ghomeshi, the bank's new president and chief operating officer, said the changes are necessary for the institution to take advantage of its size.
"We are the largest Florida-based bank, and it's time to demonstrate our abilities to serve our customers," he said.
Mr. Ghomeshi joined BankUnited in November from BankAmerica Corp., where he was president of its South Florida operations.
Since he arrived, BankUnited has established a business banking unit focusing on companies with $5 million of sales or less, and it has introduced commercial mortgage and checking products. It also started a private banking division.
Analysts reacted with cautious optimism to both the charges and the restructuring. Deborah Beylus, an analyst with JW Genesis Capital Markets in Boca Raton, Fla., said switching to a commercial focus "is the buzzword right now in banking."
Still, BankUnited can capitalize on South Florida's commercial banking market, Ms. Beylus said.
"Basically, I am hoping that this is it and the problems are behind them," she said.