Local banks weathered recession

'They took more unwise risks on their balance sheet.'

During the dark days of the Great Recession in 2009, T. Rowe Price and BlackRock Inc., the world’s largest asset manager, both took on sizeable stakes in The Washington Trust Co. More

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THE ECONOMY

Local banks weathered recession

'They took more unwise risks on their balance sheet.'

Posted 4/9/12

During the dark days of the Great Recession in 2009, T. Rowe Price and BlackRock Inc., the world’s largest asset manager, both took on sizeable stakes in The Washington Trust Co.

T. Rowe, a publicly owned, national investment firm, more than doubled its 4.3 percent stake in the bank, to 8.8 percent.

BlackRock declined to say how much stock it purchased in the Westerly-based bank that year. The Securities and Exchange Commission does not require ownership of less than 5 percent to be reported. In 2008, BlackRock didn’t meet the threshold but by the following year it had a 5.4 percent stake. (BlackRock also reported a 7.5 percent stake in Webster Bank in 2009, after not meeting the 5 percent threshold the previous year.)

SEC filings show that though many investors were trading out of banks at the time, some institutional investors saw opportunity in some of the area’s publicly traded banks. They have generally been rewarded since.

Both T. Rowe and BlackRock have largely maintained their stakes in the local banks, which along with Newport Federal Savings Bank and Brookline Bank – owner of Bank Rhode Island – are currently viewed by many national investment firms as solid performers, according to financial analysts that track the local banks’ performance.

“Washington Trust has done a great job throughout the downturn,” said Frank Schiraldi, associate director for equity research for Sandler O’Neill + Partners of New York. He specializes in evaluating community and regional banks and thrifts.

“Like just about every bank in the country, it was affected by the housing bubble and the recession that followed,” he said. “It has shown strength in underwriting and has made it through the downturn nearly unscathed. It’s a testament to the bank.” The bank is one of the oldest in the nation, and has total assets worth about $3 billion.

At T. Rowe Price, headquartered in Baltimore, portfolio managers actively evaluate and invest in a variety of small and large companies.

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