WASHINGTON - A bank that has helped fuel technology growth and venture capital start-ups on the West Coast and Massachusetts soon could be tapping into the high-tech-heavy Middle Atlantic region.
Silicon Valley Bancshares of San Jose, Calif., is considering opening a loan office in either Virginia or Maryland in the coming months, bank officials said. It would be the bank's second office on the East Coast, joining its Wellesley, Mass., site.
"We're studying it," said Kenneth P. Wilcox, head of the bank's East Coast division, based in Wellesley. "But we're looking very enthusiastically at the possibility. We've been calling on that area for a couple of years and have built up a nice portfolio of primarily venture- capital-backed high-tech companies."
"They're welcomed enthusiastically by all the venture firms in the region," said Charles W. Newhall, general partner of New Enterprise Associates, a venture capital firm in Baltimore. "I think it will be a tremendous benefit to the area and a great opportunity for them."
With virtually no venture-capital-backed firms about 20 years ago, the Middle Atlantic region in the past four years has been home to about 15% of the country's venture-capital-backed companies, Mr. Newhall said.
Mr. Wilcox said the bank's research indicates the Southeast, particularly the Baltimore-Washington corridor, is one of the biggest and fastest-growing high-tech and venture capital regions in the country.
Silicon Valley Bancshares, with $1.1 billion of assets, already has helped finance 60 of the start-up companies backed by Mr. Newhall's firm in various parts of the country, he said.
Though the volatility of start-ups, particularly in the technology sector, scares away most banks, Silicon Valley has made it their specialty.
"Their niche business is technology lending and venture capital start- ups," said Lana Chan, vice president at Oppenheimer & Co. in New York. "They've continued to focus on that area, and they've had some pretty strong numbers."
So strong, in fact, that Ms. Chan last month raised her 1995 earnings estimate for the bank 15 cents, to $1.75 a share. This confidence was attributed to higher-than-expected income so far this quarter from the exercise of warrants on technology companies, she said.
The vibrant market in initial public offerings has generated $3.8 million in pretax income so far this quarter. Oppenheimer had estimated only $1 million from this source.
The bank as a whole has turned the corner from just three years ago when it lost $2.2 million as a result of the collapse of the commercial real estate market in California. Silicon Valley had blossomed since its founding in 1983 by relying heavily on the California economy, particularly in technology.
It grew fivefold in just five years in the late '80s and early '90s to more than $1 billion of assets, before the market crashed, leading to trouble with regulators.
Under new management since early 1993, led by chief executive John C. Dean, the bank has whittled down its nonperforming assets from the dark days of California's recession. In the past year alone, nonperformers have been more than halved to $18.2 million.
Profitability has returned as well. The bank earned $4 million in the second quarter, a 78% increase from last year. Returns on assets and equity are also impressive, reaching 1.5% and 18.4%, respectively. In Oppenheimer's August report on the bank, Ms. Chan said she expects it to maintain these high levels over the long term.