S&P Cuts First Midwest Rating On Real Estate Loans

NEW YORK (AP) ¿ Standard & Poor's Ratings Services on Monday lowered its counterparty credit rating on First Midwest Bancorp Inc., citing its high risk portfolio of commercial real estate loans.

S&P lowered its counterparty credit rating on First Midwest to "BBB-/A-3" from "BBB/A-2."

At the same time, S&P lowered its counterparty credit rating on subsidiary First Midwest Bank to "BBB/A-2" from "BBB+/A-2."

The outlook for the Itasca, Ill.-based bank is negative.

"The downgrade reflects our expectation that the bank's credit quality will remain under significant pressure throughout 2009 and 2010, which we believe will have a negative impact on the company's earning and capital," said S&P credit analyst Vikas Jhaveri in a statement announcing the cuts. "First Midwest will have to face the challenges inherent in its commercial real estate portfolio, which is concentrated in a limited geographic area."

The bank's recent capital raise should help mitigate some of the pressures, Jhaveri said, but noted that about 46 percent of its loans are in commercial real estate.

Non-performing assets, which includes loans that are 90 days past due and other real estate owned and restructured loans, have increased rapidly to 6.2 percent as of June 30. About half of the loan deterioration so far is linked to residential land and development-related loans in the Chicago area. S&P thinks pressure will continue to mount in the next few years, pressuring earnings as management builds reserves to cover unpaid loans.

The ratings, which remain investment grade, reflect First Midwest's "focused business model, driven by its highly efficient operations, a strong competitive position in its niche market, and an adequate funding profile," Jhaveri said.

First Midwest shares closed up 23 cents, or 2.2 percent, at $10.48.

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