Huntington to repay federal TARP aid

Friday, December 17, 2010  02:51 AM By Mark Williams

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Huntington Bancshares is nearly free from its $1.4 billion federal bailout loan.

The bank said yesterday that it plans to repay yet this month the money it took during the financial crisis two years ago.

The plan comes after the bank raised $1.2 billion this week by issuing new stock and selling debt. Huntington said the sale of the shares and debt should be completed today.

Federal regulators need to approve the repayment plan.

“In my 30 years of banking, this is the best week I’ve ever enjoyed,” said Stephen Steinour, Huntington’s chairman, president and CEO. “It is so thrilling to complete this final step in our transition.”

The repayment caps a hectic year for a company seeking to regain its footing following the worst recession in decades.

The company has been able to return to profitability faster than it expected while adding to its staff and its banking outlets. It also has introduced its 24-hour Grace program, which gives customers a day to cover overdrafts in their accounts without incurring a fee.

“There’s a lot of positive, powerful emotions in the company now, pride again about what we’re doing,” Steinour said.

While the nation’s biggest banks have been eager to pay back the money they received from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, most regional and smaller banks have been slower to repay.

Huntington’s debt is the seventh-largest among the banks that have yet to repay their loan, according to the Treasury Department.

The repayment reflects the turnaround in the banking industry and with Huntington’s customers, Steinour said.

“We can see the confidence coming back just in what our customers are planning to do,” he said.

The bank’s return to profitability this year was a year ahead of expectations, he said.

The company also has committed $4 billion to small-business lending over three years, expanded its branch network by up to 17 percent by adding branch offices in Giant Eagle stores in Ohio, added 1,500 jobs and invested $100 million for affordable housing in Ohio that will help an estimated 3,000 people.

Steinour isn’t ready to announce new initiatives for 2011 or discuss whether the quarterly dividend will increase; the payout was slashed to a penny per share to help conserve cash during the crisis.

“We’re looking forward to moving dynamically next year,” he said. “We’ve had a good year. Every quarter is getting better. We’re getting stronger.”

Huntington shares fell a penny to $6.25 in trading yesterday.

mawilliams@dispatch.com

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