Stephen Steinour is in the mood to be offensive.
In a shift of strategy, the chief executive of Huntington Bancshares Inc. said his money-losing bank is poised to go after new business after raising $550 million by tapping the capital markets twice last week.
"This is offensive capital. This is growth capital. We've been playing a lot of defense," Steinour said on Friday. "In our mind, this puts us in a great position in our markets to grow. We've been anxious to start playing offense."
The Columbus, Ohio, company caught industry watchers off-guard by launching a surprise $400 million stock offering on Thursday, a day after closing a separate $150 million offering.
The well-received offerings may have deep implications for Huntington and other banks considering tapping equity markets. It shows that Huntington — among the country's most troubled banks — is moving out of crisis mode and looking forward. The $51.4 billion-asset company has spent most of the recession getting its house in order after booking massive losses tied to subprime mortgages.
It also illustrates that investors aren't fazed by the dilutive effect of serial capital raises, news that could bode well for other regionals like Zions BanCorp., which said last week that it would seek to raise $450 million after closing a stock offering this summer.
Steinour said Huntington decided to tap the markets in rapid succession after getting good feedback from some of the country's largest investors at a banking conference. They indicated that they would be "supportive," he said. "That gave us the confidence."
Huntington has now raised $1.2 billion since May. Steinour did not rule out more offerings. "Never say never," he said. "I don't know what can happen in all contingencies. This puts us in a very good capital position."
With the $400 million offering, Huntington's tangible common equity is 6.77%, up from 5.68% at June 30. Still, analysts were mixed on Huntington's latest move.
Tom Mitchell, a senior analyst who covers financial stocks for Miller Tabak & Co., gave it high marks.
"I think it's a really good business decision," he said. "If times get worse they are going to need more capital to take care of credit problems. If times get better, they would want to have more capital to go out and grow their business more."
Credit spreads are incredibly attractive right now, he said, so Huntington has great opportunities to make money by making low-risk loans like single-family mortgages. It could also make relatively safe investments in mortgage-backed securities backed by the government.
Steinour said Huntington plans to use most of the capital to ramp up consumer and commercial lending, with a particular focus on small business. Though the company said this moves it closer to repaying its $1.4 billion in federal assistance, Steinour said it has not yet approached the government about returning its funds given the economic uncertainty.
Other analysts were less positive than Mitchell. Anthony Davis and Mark Livesay of Stifel Nicolaus & Co. lauded the company for strengthening its balance sheet, but said the raises "significantly compromise" future earnings-per-share potential by diluting investors.
They said this latest deal dilutes shareholders by 18%; the analysts estimate that the company has diluted shareholders by 95% in 2009 by issuing 345 million common shares through equity offerings and conversions of preferred stock.