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updated 07/24/13 08:44 AM
League Economist Offers Insight
With the exception of making car loans and refinancing mortgages, there hasn't been much loan demand at California and Nevada credit unions over the past few years. But there's reason to be hopeful both states can close the gap.

According to Dwight Johnston, vice president and chief economist at the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues, credit unions in California and Nevada "had a lot to celebrate in 2012, especially in the areas of non-interest income, declines in delinquencies, and Return on Assets (ROA). We can hope 2013 turns out the same, if not better."

The 2012 results were heavily biased by larger credit unions which profited from reversing loan loss reserves and refinancing mortgages. "But generally speaking, it was a good year for the industry," Johnston said, noting his recent conversations with several credit union executives. "The biggest concern going forward, excluding regulatory burdens, remains sluggish loan demand."

Last year, total loan portfolios in California rose by 1.4 percent, and Nevada credit unions reported a decline of 7.6 percent. Nationally, credit union loans grew by almost 5 percent.

An Achievable Goal
Consumers lost their appetites to borrow after being ravaged by the recession, with California and Nevada residents living in the two hardest-hit states, Johnston noted. "The economic recovery, which technically began in June 2009, didn't reach our states until 2011."

The spread between the loan-to-share ratios of all U.S. credit unions versus California and Nevada is at an all-time—and unfavorable—high. "Nationally, credit unions are experiencing better loan demand," Johnston said.

He noted the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis’ Consumer Distress Index from early summer. It depicts the distress indices of California, Nevada, and the United States, measuring five categories of personal finance: employment, housing, credit, household budget, and new worth. Less than 70 is representative of distress; 70-79 as neutral but at risk; and more than 80 is good. If the score is under 60, it’s an all-out emergency and crisis.

"California and Nevada were at or above national numbers in the go-go days, then fell below national numbers during the recession, and are now slower to recover," Johnston said.

However, the index in California rose to nearly 70 in fourth quarter 2012, finally catching up with the United States. The Nevada index is lower, but it turned higher and moved out of the crisis zone in 2012.

No Coincidence
It's no coincidence, Johnston said. "When consumers feel better about the five categories in the Consumer Distress Index, they are more willing to borrow and spend. The delayed recoveries in California and Nevada caused the two states to fall behind in many categories, but both are catching up to the national picture."

This should bode well for future loan growth, but it will take a lot of work and innovation on the part of credit unions. "Now that the opportunity has been identified, it’s up to credit unions to help make it happen," he said.

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