Local credit unions are lending more

Washington-area credit unions are outpacing their peers nationwide in lending as local economic conditions here have helped maintain consumer and business confidence.

Among the 125 credit unions in the area, lending increased a little less than 1 percent for the 12 months ending March, compared to a nationwide decrease of 1.1 percent in loan growth, according to data from the National Credit Union Administration. During that period, loans to buy used autos grew 7.6 percent, loans for people’s first mortgages rose 4.8 percent and member business loans shot up 38.2 percent in the area.

Keep in mind that the Washington area, with its abundance of government workers, is home to some of the nation’s largest credit unions by assets, which tends to skew financial indicators. Vienna-based Navy Federal Credit Union, with $44 billion in assets and 3.6 million members, accounts for roughly half of all the assets in the area.

Excluding Navy Federal, local loan portfolios grew an average 2.2 percent. First mortgages, in particular, registered 9.2 percent growth, without the behemoth credit union, which sold 73 percent of its originations into the secondary market, according to Michael Schenk, vice president of economics and statistics at the Credit Union National Association.

As a whole, he said, local credit unions have benefited from the resilience of the regional economy, which has warded off the lull in loan demand being experienced in the rest of the country.

“If you have a fairly strong economy, relatively low unemployment, housing values that have held up, wealth that hasn’t declined as much as in other areas in the country, that typically translates into people feeling more confident and secure about taking on additional debt,” Schenk said.

Loan growth, however, is “weak relative to what we would normally see in a recovery, reflecting that there is still a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the marketplace and a focus on paying down debt,” he added.

Other financial indicators continued to show improvement. Credit quality firmed up at local institutions, with delinquencies and net loan charge-offs, or the number of uncollectible accounts, on a steady decline in three of the past four quarters.

Return on assets, a key measure of credit union profitability, was 1.24 percent for the metro region, compared with 0.79 percent nationally for the 12 months through March. Sans Navy Federal, local return on assets penciled in at 0.76 percent during that period. Credit unions typically strive for a return of at least 1 percent.

Reductions in operating expenses and loan loss provisions helped bolster income, Schenk said, despite a decline in fee income and narrow net interest margins, or the difference between what credit unions earn on loans and pay out on deposits.

Danielle Douglas covers the banking industry for The Washington Post.
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