After six years of stagnation and economic hardship, Florida is slowly coming out of the recession cocoon.
Recently, the Sunshine State's unemployment rate fell to 8.5%, the lowest in nearly four years, and combined with the momentum of the housing market, it clearly shows that Florida is on a positive path and has been for months. Pending home sales, closed sales and prices are all trending up.
Statewide closed sales of existing single-family homes totaled 17,779 in October, up 25.3% compared to the year-ago figure, according to data from Florida Realtors Industry Data and Analysis department and vendor partner 10K Research and Marketing. Closed sales typically occur 30 to 90 days after sales contracts are written.
But despite all the sunny news, the road to recovery is still paved with shadows of the housing bust.
Florida is rated as the third-poorest state in the nation, with about one in five Floridians (19.5%) living below the poverty level, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But, it is also a state where consumer confidence is optimistic. Floridians said they expect the nation's economy to improve both in the short-term and over the next five years, according to the University of Florida’s Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research.
That consumer confidence puts Florida credit unions in a good position to help their struggling members find their way back to a bright and prosperous future.
As of September, Florida credit unions reported 77 basis points of ROA, with 2.4% delinquencies and a 12-month loan growth rate of negative 0.4%.
Also in September, Florida's credit unions added thousands of new members, pushing membership beyond 4.68 million for the first time, according to the League of Southeastern Credit Unions. The state's credit unions added 43,000 members in the second quarter and assets rose by $310 million during that period to reach a record $45.6 billion. Florida credit unions also increased business loans to members by 3% in the second quarter and auto loans to members rose for the first time since 2007, while real estate loans increased for the first time since 2009, according to the league.
The $1.85 billion Pen Air Federal Credit Union reported a respectable 5.23% loan growth to the NCUA as of Sept. 30, and a ROA of 0.83%. But with a delinquency rate of 9.27% and charge-offs at 1.33%, it shows that the recovery in Florida may take some time.
“Pen Air FCU is located in Northwest Florida, and we also serve members in the neighboring Baldwin County, Ala.,” said Patricia M. Veal, vice president of marketing for Pen Air FCU. “We may not necessary be the norm for the rest of Florida, but it seems we are all facing the same issues with the economy and the housing market.”
On the positive side, Pen Air FCU has positioned itself strategically to maintain its military roots but to also expand select employee groups so that it doesn’t have to turn away new members. The credit union offers programs to engage members, like the Jumpstart Certificate program for young adults to provide Gen Y with the tools needed for financial success. Pre-paid cash cards are also in the works to attract Gen Y.
Pen Air’s Milestone Members are offered perks based on length of membership with the credit union, and members with multiple accounts and services receive reward points for travel and merchandise.
“Our net membership growth surpasses our peers so I would say that along with our reputation for safety, soundness and five-star rating from Bauer Financial, our overall marketing strategy has been successful,” Veal said.
In the Tampa Bay area, the $24.5 million Manatee Community Federal Credit Union has been serving the community for 55 years. Founded in 1958 as Tropicana Employees Federal Credit Union serving Tropicana Products employees and their families for nearly 50 years, the credit union was renamed five years ago after its charter was opened to the at-large community in an effort to be able to serve all residents surrounding the credit union.
This year “is certainly a different type of year,” said Cindy D. Barco, manager/CEO of MCFCU. “Across the nation, the financial industry continues to struggle through recovery from the recent recession.”
MCFCU’s loan portfolio started contracting in 2010 with a 13% decrease in portfolio size, and another 22% decrease in 2011. However, after struggling with low loan demand the first half of 2012, Barco said the credit union has experienced seen significant loan gains in the third and fourth quarters. She said auto lending is the core product for the credit union, with 2012 auto balances up 9% and total loan growth for 2012 expected to be 12%. Helping build auto loans was a partnership with CUDL to draw from local dealers, as well as a partnership with Enterprise Car Sales.
MCFCU’s ROA as of Sept. 30 was 0.33%, a big improvement over last year, Barco said.
“The credit union experienced its highest year of loan loss in 2011 due to mortgage depreciation and loss,” Barco explained. “Charged-off loans in 2011 increased 83% over 2010, with 62% of total charge-offs being mortgage loans. This resulted in large provision for loan loss expense in 2010 and 2011.”
That resulted in a negative ROA of negative 0.44% in 2011. However, now that mortgage loan quality has improved, the credit union has experienced minimal loan losses so far this year, with no mortgage charge offs at all, she said.
A study released Sept. 2, by the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy, reports that in 2007, the state was smacked hard by the recession, due mainly by the Miami construction industry. A few years later, Florida was leading the nation in negative economic indicators, but now the state is starting to come out of its slump.
"Florida’s economy is moving in the right direction as the state’s unemployment rate declines each month and more Floridians find jobs,” said James Miller of the Department of Economic Opportunity.
To prove this point, the $1.8 billion Grow Financial Credit Union of Tampa, Fla., one of Tampa Bay's largest credit unions, is posting a hot ROA of 0.98% and a loan growth of 0.52%, which marks a big improvement over last year’s negative results of negative 8.31% loan growth.
“New ideas, new processes, the best staff in the industry, and we work very hard to achieve maximum performance within the confines of controlled risk management,” said Bob Fisher, president/CEO of Grow Financial, when asked about the credit union’s recent success. “We expect 2013 to be not only great but the foundation floor for creating the credit union model of the future.”
So while it’s not always sunny in Florida, the forecast calls for a continued recovery and brighter days ahead.
“Florida is working its way out of a steep recession.” said Florida state Sen. Maria Sachs. “We are not alone in our struggle.
Funding from the federal government has helped to feed the hungry, to aid the recently unemployed, to keep our teachers in the classroom and to support our infrastructure projects. Florida is moving forward.”