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Ten Maryland banks remain in TARP, while Treasury winds down program

FinanceBankingU.S. Department of the TreasuryBank of America Corp.F.N.B. CorporationAmerican International Group

Delmar Bancorp has no regrets about taking a $9 million investment from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program, even though some banks have rushed for the exit.

"We did it as an abundance of caution," said Ed Thomas, president of the parent of Bank of Delmarva, which serves the still-struggling Eastern Shore. "I'm glad we did it because we didn't know how deep the financial downturn was going to be."

TARP provided capital at an attractive price, he said. Created four years ago as the country's financial system teetered on the verge of collapse, TARP provided more than 700 banks with a combined $205 billion of capital by buying dividend-paying preferred shares. The goal was to support viable banks, but it became seen by the public as a government handout for troubled lenders.

Large institutions able to raise capital elsewhere abandoned the program to avoid the stigma, and others followed. As of last week, just 258 banks nationwide remain in TARP. Of the 20 Maryland banks that took TARP money, 10 are still in the program with a combined $108 million in TARP funds, according to the Treasury Department's latest figures.

Here and elsewhere, the remaining banks tend to be small institutions.

As of August, participants had an average of $936 million in assets, compared with $35.7 billion for those that previously exited TARP, including such giants as Citigroup and Bank of America, according to SNL Financial.

Also, compared to banks that have pulled out of the program, "current TARP participants look worse in terms of capital, profitability and asset quality," said Andrew Wolcott, an SNL analyst.

Meanwhile, the Treasury Department is making its own exit by winding down TARP. It has begun auctioning off some preferred shares to private investors. Banks, of course, can avoid this by repaying the government, buying back the preferred shares.

But some worry that Treasury is beating too hasty a retreat, dumping shares without considering whether the banks are strong enough yet.

"Community banks are still feeling the effects of the crisis and have only just begun their recovery," the office of the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program reported last month. "Any TARP exit plan should ensure that the industry does not lose ground on that recovery."

All but one of the 10 Maryland banks that still have TARP funds have missed quarterly dividend payments to the federal government, the Treasury reported. The dividends are 5 percent a year for the first five years, and jump to 9 percent thereafter.

According to October figures from the Treasury, Maryland's largest remaining recipients of TARP funds are: 

•First United Corp. of Oakland, which received $30 million in TARP money and is behind on eight dividend payments totaling $3 million.

•Severn Bancorp of Annapolis, which received $23.4 million and behind on two payments worth $584,825.

•Cecil Bancorp Inc. of Elkton, which has $11.5 million from TARP and is in arrears on 11 payments amounting to nearly $1.59 million.

The three banks did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Delmar has missed four dividend payments amounting to $490,500, according to the Treasury. Bank regulators required a suspension of dividend payments after the bank posted a loss last year, said Thomas, the president.

With 10 bank branches in Maryland and Delaware, Delmar lost $2.9 million after charging off some bad loans, the first loss in Thomas' 22 years there, he said. The company has the money to pay the dividends, he said, and will do so once it gets regulatory approval.

The bank would still be well-capitalized without TARP, but wants to maintain its capital cushion for now, Thomas said. Delmar plans to repay the TARP funds before the dividend bumps up to 9 percent in a couple of years, he said.

For big banks, it's easy to go into the market and raise capital, but that's not always an option for small banks, Thomas said. 

"We don't have the luxury. We don't have an investment banker that can raise $10 million for us tomorrow," he said. "That's why smaller banks are still in the program."

Harbor Bankshares Corp. of Baltimore received $6.8 million in TARP investment, and has missed 9 payments totaling $765,000. The Treasury can nominate up to two members to a bank's board once it misses six payments, but that hasn't happened in Harbor's case, said Joseph Haskins Jr., its chairman, president and CEO.

A 2010 consent order with bank regulators has precluded Harbor from making dividend payments so the banking company can use that money instead to raise its capital levels, Haskins said. Harbor exceeds capital requirements, he said, adding that he expects dividend payments will be reinstated early next year after a bank examination.

Only Annapolis Bancorp, which is being acquired by Pennsylvania-based F.N.B. Corp., is up-to-date on its TARP dividend payments, according to the Treasury. The parent of BankAnnapolis is expected to repay its $4 million in TARP funds before the acquisition is completed.

Some banks say it's unfair that TARP has come to be synonymous with problem institutions.

After all, small banks wouldn't have been allowed into TARP if they were unhealthy, Haskins said. Those that signed up did so to get money to expand, he said.

"If you look at it holistically … it's been a positive for the industry at large," he said.

Bankers also are quick to point out that it's been good for taxpayers, too.

The overall program — which includes support for the auto industry and insurance giant AIG — is expected to cost taxpayers a total of $24 billion by the time TARP wraps up, according to a Congressional Budget Office report last month. But TARP's capital purchase program for banks is projected to generate an $18 billion net gain, the CBO concluded.

Howard Bancorp Inc. in Ellicott City last year repaid its $5.98 million in TARP money with about half of the $12.5 million it received by switching to another government program, the Small Business Lending Fund. The government takes preferred shares in this program, too, but the dividend drops as bank lending grows.

Howard currently pays a 3 percent annual dividend, said Mary Ann Scully, the banking company's CEO, president and chairman. She expects the dividend will drop early next year to the lowest level possible — 1 percent.

Scully said it's unfortunate that TARP developed a stigma.

"I look at this as something that allowed us to safely lend," she said. "There are some people that misunderstand it and now think it is tainted. ... They forget how truly scary the financial situation was."

eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com

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