Profits fall at many area banks amid slow mortgage demand


A branch of Cardinal Bank at 1776 K Street NW. (Evy Mages/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

The fourth quarter was a mixed bag for the area’s banks as slowing demand for home loans pushed down profits at a number of financial institutions.

“It was a decent quarter,” said Matthew C. Schultheis, an analyst for Boenning & Scattergood. “But the challenge for all banks is that mortgage banking is not good — and that was very evident in companies like Cardinal Financial.”

Cardinal, based in Tysons Corner, posted a 58 percent drop in overall profit during the fourth quarter amid a $1.6 million loss in its mortgage banking subsidiary.

“Mortgages were a big piece of [Cardinal’s] profits in 2011 and 2012,” said Catherine Mealor, an analyst for Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. “We all knew those earnings were going to come away eventually.”

Fourth-quarter profits at Cardinal totaled $5.55 million, or 18 cents a share, down from $13.04 million, or 43 cents a share, a year earlier. The company’s commercial banking business, however, posted an 11 percent increase in profit.

“The bank itself is killing it — loans are up, profits are up — but the mortgage company had a tough quarter,” said Bernard H. Clineburg, chairman and chief executive of Cardinal Financial. “A lot of banks have gotten out of the mortgage business, but we made a conscious decision to stay in.”

The company has cut staff in its mortgage business and is in the process of shifting its focus from refinances to home purchases, Clineburg said.

Overall, the rising costs of new regulations and heightened mortgage lending standards have made it increasingly difficult for banks to turn a profit, analysts said.

“The problems aren’t credit-related right now. They’re revenue-related,” Schultheis said.

Severn Bancorp in Annapolis posted a loss of $5.47 million, or 58 cents a share, in the fourth quarter as the bank continued to rid its books of faulty loans. A year earlier, by comparison, the bank reported earnings of $1.27 million, or 9 cents a share.

“Our organization has been focused on cleaning up our balance sheet,” Alan J. Hyatt, president and chief executive, said in a statement, adding that Severn had more than $48 million in underperforming loans last year.

Among other banks that posted a drop in earnings: Access National in Reston (where profits fell 49 percent) and Sandy Spring Bancorp in Olney (3.03 percent).

But it wasn’t all bad news. The bright spot, analysts said, was in commercial real estate lending, which helped prop up earnings at Eagle Bancorp, where profits rose a record 18 percent.

The Bethesda-based company reported earnings of $12 million, or 45 cents a share, up from $10.19 million, or 39 cents a share, a year earlier.

“The Washington regional economy is still one of the healthiest in the country,” chairman and chief executive Ronald D. Paul said in a call with investors Thursday.

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section.
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