Maine bank may try for rescue funds

Posted Nov. 26, 2008, at 9:43 p.m.

Bar Harbor Bank & Trust apparently has become the first Maine-based bank to apply for funds from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program.

But it most likely won’t be the last, banking experts said Thursday — and that’s probably good news for Maine borrowers and not bad news for Maine’s banks.

“I’d say that about half the banks in Maine look like they’re seriously evaluating adding this capital to their portfolio,” said Chris Pinkham, president of the Maine Association of Community Banks. “Treasury has been encouraging healthy banks [to apply for the money]. … The reason the money is being offered to healthy banks is that it’s a way to get the economy working.”

The Maine bank joins more than 100 lenders, insurers and financial companies around the country that have applied for TARP funds totaling at least $65.8 billion. The Treasury’s $700 billion rescue plan, which was announced in October, includes $125 billion for the nation’s nine largest banks and $125 billion originally intended for smaller regional lenders, according to a financial report from Bloomberg.com.

Bar Harbor Bank & Trust is a community bank with 12 branches in Hancock, Washington, Penobscot and Knox counties.

According to a preliminary proxy statement filed this month with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Bar Harbor Bank officials will ask shareholders to vote on Dec. 22 whether or not to issue preferred stock to the U.S. Treasury Department in exchange for an $18.8 million loan.

“Recent economic developments have adversely affected the capital markets and the availability of capital for all financial institutions,” the document reads. “Although the Company is well-capitalized, the Company believes that the Capital Purchase Program may be a source of capital available on favorable terms.”

Pinkham said the terms of the loan would include a fixed 5 percent interest rate for the first five years and 9 percent afterward.

The document also states that capital raised through participation in the TARP Capital Purchase Program “would be available to support future growth as well as a source of capital to address the challenges and opportunities in the current market.”

Calls to Bar Harbor Bank & Trust on Wednesday were referred to bank President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Murphy, who was out of town for the holiday an unavailable for comment.

Pinkham said that in general, Maine’s financial institutions are “well-capitalized” and have a healthy net-worth, in part because they did not get involved with risky subprime loans.

“We’re not saddled with low-performing loans,” Pinkham said.

He added that far from signifying that banks themselves are troubled, participation in the TARP program can mean just the opposite. Borrowing this money from the government means that bankers are assuming that consumers will begin seeking loans and credit again soon despite the recession, Pinkham said.

“The bankers are basically being optimistic that there is a light at the end of the tunnel — and it’s not a train coming from the other end,” Pinkham said.

Yellow Light Breen, a senior vice president at Bangor Savings Bank, agreed.

“Maine banking and Maine banks are generally very strong,” Breen said Wednesday. “If you see Maine banks applying for this program, it doesn’t mean that depositors should be concerned necessarily. It means that while these banks may be strong today, they view this capital as a good deal for them and will provide them with even more strength to weather the downturn over the next year or two.”

acurtis@bangordailynews.net

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