Huntington Bancshares in Columbus, Ohio, is relying heavily on its Midwestern roots to meet its revenue targets.
The $73 billion-asset company is counting on strong growth in core markets throughout Ohio, Michigan and Indiana as it aims to increase revenue this year by 4% to 6%, Chairman and CEO Steve Steinour said.
"We're well-positioned to deliver good results the rest of the year," Steinour said in an interview after a conference call to discuss quarterly earnings.
"It's a function of the economy doing well," Steinour added. "Our states are doing well and most of our major cities are doing well, too. I've got business owners complaining that they can't hire enough workers."
It has been a while since bankers in the Midwest could crow about the region's economic growth. The Midwest has frequently suffered from sluggish momentum, so much so that several large banks in the area pursued ill-fated expansions into high-flying states like Florida before the financial crisis.
Not anymore, Steinour said, adding that even long-suffering Detroit is beginning to show signs of life.
"It's hard to find an apartment in downtown Detroit," Steinour said. The city "has a downtown that is just thriving, and we're a big part of that."
Of course, it helps to have at least one business line that is firing on all cylinders.
In Huntington's case, that business is indirect auto lending. The company originated $1.4 billion of indirect car loans in the first quarter, representing a 30% spike from a year earlier. It was also the ninth straight quarter that originations topped $1 billion — and the company doesn't see any slowdown on the horizon.
Daniel Neumeyer, Huntington's chief credit officer, said the company is achieving those results without compromising its underwriting standards. Loans made in the first quarter had an average FICO score of 765 and an 88% average loan-to-value.
"Our origination strategy has not moved at all," Neumeyer said during the earnings call.
Huntington is seeing good growth elsewhere. The commercial-and-industrial portfolio increased by 8% from a year earlier, to $1.5 billion, and March was the company's strongest month ever for Small Business Administration lending, Steinour said.
The company's earnings rose 3% from a year earlier, to $171 million, as revenue rose 7%, to $754.2 million.
Other Midwest banks are taking advantage of solid economic trends in the region.
First Defiance Financial in Defiance, Ohio, said Monday that its earnings rose by 8% from a year earlier, to $7.1 million. Donald Hileman, First Defiance's president and CEO, said during a conference call Tuesday that the $2.4 billion-asset company was able to tap into "stronger-than-expected growth" in the Ohio cities of Toledo and Columbus.
Fort Wayne, Ind., also produced some promising signs during the first quarter. "It is encouraging to us to see contributions across our entire footprint, despite [challenging] conditions," Hileman said.
Chemical Financial in Midland, Mich., also had a strong showing; its first-quarter profit increased 30% from a year earlier, to $23.3 million. The $9.3 billion-asset company, which is in the process of buying Talmer Bancorp, benefited from its recent purchases of Monarch Community Bancorp and Lake Michigan Financial.
Huntington also had a big acquisition pending: It announced in January that it would pay $3.4 billion to buy the $25.4 billion-asset FirstMerit. The deal is expected to close in the third quarter.
"Integration is well underway and we're getting terrific cooperation," Steinour said. "The more I get to know the FirstMerit people, the more excited I get about" the deal.
Credit quality is holding up relatively well at most Midwestern banks.
Huntington's $8.6 million in net chargeoffs equaled just 0.07% of total loans and was well below its guidance. Neumeyer cautioned that the rock-bottom lows reported in recent years are starting to give way to more normal levels of problem assets.
Though Huntington isn't forecasting any significant credit problems, "loan-loss provisions for both ourselves and the rest of the industry will gradually move toward normal," Neumeyer said.
Huntington did report a $134 million increase in nonaccrual loans from a year earlier, though it was mostly confined to participations in energy loans originated by other banks.
Chemical, meanwhile, reported that nonperforming loans made up just 0.99% of total loans, versus 1.28% in the first quarter of 3015.
At First Defiance, nonperforming loans of $17.7 million were 1.03% of total loans on March 31, down from 1.48% a year earlier. Chief Financial Officer Kevin Thompson said he doesn't foresee significant weakening anytime soon.
"We've had a loan or two here and there get classified, but the overall trend is still very positive in our portfolio," Thompson said during the company's quarterly call.