Southeast regional bank Regions Financial (NYSE: RF ) recently posted a fourth-quarter loss, but there were a few positives, too. A SWOT -- a look at the company's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats -- will give us a clearer picture of where the bank stands.
- Loan growth: Top-line growth has been pretty bleak at most U.S. banks as corporations and individuals continue to reduce debt levels. Despite this, Regions has been able to grow its loan portfolio, which is a big positive. In its most recent quarter, Regions' growth in the middle market and industrial customer section grew by almost 11% on an annual basis.
- Credit quality: Regions has seen its non-performing loans go down for seven straight quarters. Provisions for loan losses have also been on the decline. In its most recent quarter, provisions declined by 57% compared to the same period last year. And it doesn't stop there. The bank's Tier 1 capital ratio rose to 13.2%, which points toward a sturdier balance sheet.
- Lower fee income: Fee-based revenues last quarter were hurt by the Durbin Amendment that took affect in October and restricts fees charged on debit card transactions. This, along with lower gains on investment securities, contributed to total non-interest income in the quarter falling by a staggering 56% from the year-ago period. Plugging this hole could be a challenge.
- Government debt: Regions is yet to repay the $3.5 billion it received from the government as a bailout back in 2008.
- Remodeling: With the sale of Morgan Keegan, Regions is looking to focus more and more on core banking. This is fine, but if the economy were to take a turn for the worse, that could throw a wrench in Regions' plans.
- Focus areas: Regions plans to cut down on expenses and focus on increasing profits from commercial and industrial banking businesses, which may help boost margins.
- Bad is good: One thing that has been a thorn for banks is low interest rates, but it also does offer them certain opportunities. Overall low interest rates may entice consumers to take on more loans, helping Regions further grow its loan portfolio.
- Eurozone fears: The European crisis could dampen the U.S. economic picture.
- A depressed economy: There are always two sides to every story. While low interest rates do offer an opportunity for loans to grow, it also means that top-line growth will remain drab. Moreover, a sluggish economy coupled with high unemployment in the U.S. may lead to a rise in delinquencies, which is obviously not what the bank wants.
Regions definitely has a few positives to take forward in 2012, but there are also a few things it has to be wary of. Banks are on the rebound and hopefully things will become better this year.
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