Florida banks improve in financial ratings
TAMPA - The worst may be over for Florida's beleaguered banks, with fewer getting rock-bottom financial ratings from banking researcher BauerFinancial. The Coral Gables firm rates the financial health of banks and credit unions every three months and assigns them a score of five stars to zero stars, with five being the best rating. Overall, things are slightly better in Florida than they were a year ago. In the three months that ended Dec. 31, BauerFinancial gave 37.2 percent of Florida banks a rating of one star ("troubled") or two stars ("problematic"). A year ago, 39.7 percent of Florida banks got those negative ratings.While that's an improvement, Florida still has more financially weak banks than any other state. Georgia ranks second in troubled and problematic banks, at 36.1 percent. Locally, only two community banks received BauerFinancial's dreaded zero-star rating: Heritage Bank of Florida, based in Lutz, and First Home Bank of Seminole. The improved ratings are a sign that banks are recovering from the recession and real estate collapse, according to Doug Winton, Tampa Bay market president for Republic Bank, and Jerry Divers, president of the Tampa Banking Co., the Bank of Tampa's parent company. "I do think things are improving on a lot of fronts," Winton said. "A lot of time has been spent for most banks to have gotten their arms around problem loans." But Florida could still see more banks fail, both agreed. In general, the biggest out-of-state banks that operate in Florida got ratings of at least three stars, which BauerFinancial considers "adequate" financial strength. BauerFinancial gave Bank of America, Wells Fargo and SunTrust three stars apiece. JPMorgan Chase and Regions Bank each received 3½ stars (a rating of "good"). Citibank got four stars ("excellent").
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