A pair of Southern banking companies provided updates Thursday on how they are tackling the distressed commercial real estate loans on their books.
Synovus Financial Corp. said it has become more aggressive in selling the loans at a discount, and Regions Financial Corp. said it would ramp up its efforts soon.
Richard Anthony, Synovus' chairman and chief executive, said the $34 billion-asset Columbus, Ga., company has conducted three auctions for residential properties around Atlanta in recent months, divesting more than $58 million of real estate at prices equal to 63% to 70% of the value of the loans.
Another auction could be held in November to dispose of properties in other parts of Georgia, he said at a conference in Memphis hosted by Regions' Morgan Keegan & Co.
The discounted prices met "our expectations," Mr. Anthony said.
C. Dowd Ritter, Regions' chairman, president, and CEO, said the $144 billion-asset Birmingham, Ala., company is considering a more aggressive effort to unload troubled loans in its $4.8 billion home builder book. It sold about $147 million of properties in the second quarter. "We've got a disciplined look at selling these distressed loans into the secondary market," Mr. Ritter said at the conference, "and I think you'll see more of that as opportunities arise over the next few quarters."
Christopher Marinac, an analyst at FIG Partners LLC, said Regions had hired an outside firm to help it find buyers for roughly $250 million of builder loans, with an understanding that some of the properties would be around Atlanta.
A spokesman for Regions said it typically would not disclose such a sale until its completion.
Other banking companies have also been shedding assets.
Popular Inc. in San Juan, Puerto Rico, said last week that it would sell $1.2 billion of subprime mortgage assets to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. at a pretax loss of $450 million. Last month Wachovia Corp. reportedly agreed to sell about $40 million of land and construction loans in several states to a joint venture led by the developer LandCap Partners.
Banking companies are more willing to sell troubled loans and charge off the difference as it becomes increasingly apparent that home valuations are nowhere near rebounding. Mr. Anthony estimated that "we're right in the middle" of a downturn. Mr. Ritter said he would be unable to provide a forecast, other than to say the malaise would "go on for several more quarters."
According to Mr. Marinac, bankers are mostly selling properties with completed houses, since those retain more value. However, he wondered if they were being aggressive enough in their sales. "These guys can stomach a 35% writeoff" on completed homes, he said. "They're not willing to take an 80% hit on unfinished lots, but they need to be, because the market isn't coming back in the next year."