Spokane Journal of Business

Finance industry executives are bullish despite rate hikes

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Bank, credit union, and investment market executives here remain mostly bullish about the coming year, despite possibly growth-dampening effects of anticipated Federal Reserve rate hikes and potential impacts of tax reform.

Earlier this month, the Federal Reserve raised the federal funds rate—the interest rate that banks charge other banks on overnight loans—by 25 basis points, and a recent poll shows the Fed could raise rates several more times in 2018.

Despite those increases, financial executives here say rates still will be relatively low compared to historic levels, and they’re optimistic the gains they’ve seen this year will continue.

“Increasing rates are generally viewed as positive, in that they reflect a growing economy and one that is expected to expand in 2018 as well,” says Kurt Walsdorf, Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s market president for Spokane and state president for Idaho.

Walsdorf says 2017 has been a solid year of gains for Bank of America, and the bank expects continued growth next year, with business-owner confidence continuing to grow and low unemployment rates potentially leading to wage growth in 2018.

Linda Underwood, U.S. Bank’s Spokane-based regional vice president for Eastern Washington and North Idaho, says 2017 has been a good year for the financial services industry—and for U.S. Bank. 

“We’ve seen steady, moderate growth this year, and expect that to continue into next year,” she says.

Larry Sorensen, CFO at Spokane-based Washington Trust Bank, says the bank has done well this year through the third quarter, with increased interest rates balancing against a growing portfolio of earning assets.

“Our net-interest revenue increased 13.1 percent compared to last year,” he says. “And loan growth for the third quarter was 4.5 percent, or $172 million, which is higher than the industry average.”

Sorensen says Washington Trust will likely finish the year with strong, but moderate growth in the fourth quarter, and he expects similar growth in store for 2018.

Executives from the Spokane area’s two largest credit unions, Spokane Teachers Credit Union and Numerica Credit Union, say they too anticipate strong growth in 2018. 

Ezra Eckhart, incoming president and CEO of Liberty Lake-based STCU, says the credit union is pleased with its projections through the end of the year.

“STCU saw 10 percent growth in both loans and deposits this year, and we anticipate similar growth in 2018,” he says. 

Cindy Leaver, Numerica’s CFO and chief strategy officer, says the credit union saw loan growth of about 10 percent and deposit growth of about 15 percent during the past year. 

Looking ahead to next year, she says the credit union aims for loan and deposit growth of 9 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

Tim Vorphal, founder and CEO of Vorphal Wing Securities Inc., of Spokane, says he expects investors will continue to do well next year.

“Typically, the market does well under a moderate, rising, inflation era,” he says. “One thing that does worry investors is the overvaluation of stocks, but there doesn’t appear to be any major catalysts in store that would push us toward a recession.”

LeAnn Bjerken
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Reporter LeAnn Bjerken covers health care at the Journal of Business. A Minnesota native and cat lover, she enjoys beachside vacations and writing poetry. LeAnn has worked for the Journal since 2015.

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