The Real Deal Miami

Landlords can count on money in the banks

By Hector Florin | December 05, 2008 11:07AM

 
The seismic shifts in the banking industry
resulting from recent mergers and acquisitions won’t shrink the number
of bank branches in South Florida, at least in the next few months, a
rare bright spot for bank customers and landlords trying to keep
commercial real estate tenants.

Although the national banking landscape was profoundly altered by Wells Fargo’s takeover of Wachovia, and Washington Mutual’s absorption by
JPMorgan Chase & Co., the acquiring banks had virtually no South
Florida presence. That’s a strong indication they’ll keep most of their
newly purchased branches open.

Spokesmen for Wachovia and Wells Fargo said decisions on which branches
will close nationwide won’t be made until after the merger is finalized
by year’s end. Wells Fargo had no bank branches in centers in Florida
before it bought Wachovia in October, while Wachovia’s 712 financial
centers — 223 in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties —
gave the bank the highest market share in Florida, the state where it
had the most branches, more than double that of its home state of North
Carolina.

Analysts predict branch closings will likely center in regions where
the old and new banks overlap. The San Francisco Bay Area is one such
place where Wachovia and Wells Fargo have a heavy presence.

Bill Hardin, a Florida International University professor and director
of the school’s real estate programs, predicts “very little impact” in
South Florida because there is no overlap. Perhaps some operational or
back office spaces may close, but not much else.

“If I were working at a Wachovia in South Florida, I’d be thankful,” Hardin said.

Chase’s acquisition of Washington Mutual’s banking operation from the
Federal Reserve in September was followed by the announcement that the
buyer will shutter 10 percent of WaMu’s 2,200 branches. The two banks
have the most overlap in Texas, Illinois and New York, particularly in
the Chicago and New York City metropolitan areas.

Chase has only five banking branches in Florida, spokeswoman Nancy
Norris said, and there’s a strong likelihood it will keep existing
Washington Mutual branches open. But it’s no guarantee. “We’re still in
the evaluation phase,” she added.

The company is looking at each individual Washington Mutual branch and
studying the profitability, location, ability for growth and proximity
to other branches, Norris said.

Washington Mutual has 273 branches in Florida, second only to
California in terms of state presence. The bank has 128 locations in
the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metropolitan area. Like Wells Fargo-Wachovia,
any announcement of Chase-Washington Mutual branch closings isn’t
expected until next year.

“The beauty for South Florida is neither one of these big mergers is going to create a problem,” Hardin said.