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Bank-Stock Winners in Unlikely State: Georgia

Bank stocks have had a big run-up, led by large regional players SunTrust and Synovus.

ATLANTA (TheStreet) -- SunTrust (STI) - Get SunTrust Banks, Inc. Report and Synovus Financial (SNV) - Get Synovus Financial Corp. Report stand out as winners among Georgia's 301 banks and savings and loans even as the state is known for producing the highest number of failures since the beginning of 2008.

Big banks with subsidiaries in Georgia also include

Wells Fargo

(WFC) - Get Wells Fargo & Company Report



(BBT) - Get BB&T Corporation Report


Shares of SunTrust, which dominates Georgia banking, have risen 41% this year, compared with the

S&P 500 Financials Index's

15% increase. The broader

S&P 500 Index

has climbed 7%. Synovus, which is consolidating its 30 bank charters by mid-year, has soared 68%.

Wells Fargo's Georgia subsidiary is Wachovia Card Services, which is very strongly capitalized and has fared better through the crisis than many other credit card banks. Its net charge-off ratio (actual loan losses) was 8.56% for 2009, compared with an aggregated 9.5% for the U.S. industry, according to the FDIC.

Wells Fargo's

shares have climbed 20% this year.

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Here's a list of the 10 largest Georgia-based banks, along with key 2009 metrics and financial-strength ratings.

Georgia banks continue shakeout

The fourth-quarter banks and thrifts analysis by Ratings

, the most recently available data, highlights 24 undercapitalized institutions, most with critically poor loan quality. Half of them received "recommended" ratings of B-plus or better.

Banking consolidation in Georgia has stretched into 2010, with seven failures so far this year and a total of 37 since the beginning of 2008, the most for any state. Illinois follows with 25, California with 24 and Florida with 22.

Large banks that have taken advantage of failures to gain market share in the state include

Regions Financial

(RF) - Get Regions Financial Corporation Report

, which assumed all the deposits of Integrity Bank of Alpharetta when it failed in August 2008, and BB&T, which took over the deposits of Haven Trust Co. of Duluth when it was shuttered in December.

Previous bank-and-thrift failures are detailed in's

interactive bank failure map:

The bank-failure map is color-coded, with states having the greatest number of failures highlighted in red, and states with no failures in gray. Hover your mouse over a state enables you to see the combined 2008-2009 totals for each state. Click on the state to open a detailed map pinpointing the locations with additional information for each bank failure.

Georgia banks with weakest loan quality


listing of

undercapitalized banks

for Georgia institutions that failed to meet the regulatory requirements that most banks and thrifts must follow to be considered

adequately capitalized


There were 62 Georgia banks and thrifts with nonperforming-asset ratios above 10% as of Dec. 31, the most for any state. Florida was second with 46, followed by Illinois with 36 and Minnesota with 23. Nonperforming assets include nonaccrual loans, accruing loans past due 90 days or more, and repossessed real estate.

(The table at the top of this page includes the 25 Georgia institutions with nonperforming-asset ratios above 15%, half of which are headquartered in the Atlanta. All of the listed banks were assigned financial-strength ratings of D-minus (weak) or lower.)

Strongest Georgia banks and thrifts

Based on year-end financial reports, 12 Georgia banks were rated B-plus (good) or above, down from 18 in the previous quarter. Ratings

uses a very conservative model to assign bank-and-thrift financial-strength ratings, placing the greatest weight on capital strength, credit quality and earnings stability.

Most of the highest-rated Georgia banks had nonperforming-asset ratios below 1%, and all were significantly below the FDIC's national aggregate of 3.32%. The recommended Georgia banks had total risk-based capital ratios well above the 10% required for most institutions to be considered


under regulatory guidelines.

The recommended Georgia banks with the strongest earnings performance was

Invesco National Trust Co.

, which is a subsidiary of investment manager

Invesco Ltd.

(IVZ) - Get Invesco Ltd. Report

. As its name implies, the bank isn't a lender and derives most of its earnings from trust and other service fees.

Two TARP banks now look expensive


Investors feel that SunTrust is turning a corner. Still, the general consensus is that a dilutive secondary offering will precede the repayment of $4.85 billion in government bailout money received via the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP.

In a report titled "The Sun Sets After Price Appreciation," Janney Montgomery Scott analyst Stephen Moss downgraded his firm's rating on the shares to "neutral," saying the company had "more progress to make with problem loans" before it would turn profitable.

Moss's 12-month price target for SunTrust is $28. (The shares are trading at around $29.) He also said that, despite news reports that

Barclays PLC

(BCS) - Get Barclays Plc Report

is looking to expand in the U.S. with an acquisition of a major regional bank, a sale of SunTrust is unlikely. That's because SunTrust still owes government bailout money, and there are legal restrictions on large change-of-control payouts to executives in the event a TARP bank is sold.

Sterne Agee analyst Adam Barkstrom downgraded the shares to "sell" in January and reiterated the rating March 8 with a $20 price target.

Both analysts estimate SunTrust will continue to lose money through 2011.

With the price run-up, a likely secondary offering and the possibility that senior management may be against a near-term takeout, investors should consider waiting before jumping into SunTrust.


FBR Capital Markets analyst Paul Miller termed Synovus "too rich" in a recent report downgrading the shares to "underperform." While the company's management expects Synovus to return to profitability this year, Miller is less optimistic. Like SunTrust, some of Synovus's appreciation has been attributed to speculation of a takeover by a foreign bank looking to expand in the U.S.

While Miller had many positive things to say about Synovus's moves to shore up its balance sheet and aggressively work through problem loans, he expects loan losses to continue to mount through 2010 and said the company "has a high-risk, low-reward profile."

Synovus owes $968 million in TARP money. With such a strong stock market, a near-term dilutive secondary offering by the company seems likely.

Wunderlich Securities analyst Kevin Reynolds upgraded Synovus from "sell" to "hold" on March 26, with a $3.50 12-month price target. The recent run-up "has been fueled largely by speculation that Synovus is a takeout candidate," he said.

With the stock-price increase, an uncertain credit environment and a likely secondary offering coming, Synovus looks like another bank stock that might be a better choice after it finishes raising additional capital and paying off TARP.

-- Reported by Philip van Doorn in Jupiter, Fla.

Philip W. van Doorn joined Ratings., Inc., in February 2007. He is the senior analyst responsible for assigning financial strength ratings to banks and savings and loan institutions. He also comments on industry and regulatory trends. Mr. van Doorn has fifteen years experience, having served as a loan operations officer at Riverside National Bank in Fort Pierce, Florida, and as a credit analyst at the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, where he monitored banks in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Mr. van Doorn has additional experience in the mutual fund and computer software industries. He holds a Bachelor of Science in business administration from Long Island University.