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Wisconsin banks performed above average in 4Q
Wisconsin banks had a 10.3 percent average capital ratio, which surpassed the average national 9.17 percent rate. Capital ratios are on the rise nationwide as the industry works to defend itself against loan losses, according to the Wisconsin Bankers Association. According to the WBA, Wisconsin institutions lent more money in the fourth quarter than those in other states, with total noncurrent loans to total loan ratios down slightly. "We see clear signs that the industry stability is continuing," said Rose Oswald Poels, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Bankers Association. "Improved capital ratios and consistent net interest margins show us that Wisconsin's banks remain dependable." BizTimes

Harris/M&I combo ahead of schedule
Business Journal of Milwaukee
BMO Financial CEO Bill Downe said Tuesday the Canadian bank's integration of the former M&I Bank and the former Harris Bank are running ahead of BMO executives' financial projections. Executives had estimated cost savings of $250 million through the July 2011 acquisition of Milwaukee-based Marshall & Ilsley Corp. They have increased their estimate to $300 million and thus far BMO has captured $100 million of those savings. The company's goal is to establish BMO Harris Bank as a market leader in the Midwest, building from a strong base in the Chicago area and Wisconsin into the surrounding states. At last year's BMO annual meeting, executives predicted the company could generate $1 billion in annual earnings in the United States in the medium term. Business Journal of Milwaukee

Associated Bank parent to move HQ to downtown Green Bay
Green Bay Press Gazette
Associated Banc-Corp is moving its corporate headquarters to downtown Green Bay, and the Ashwaubenon-based bank holding company is working with the city to find a site. The parent company of Associated Bank moved from downtown Green Bay to 1200 Hansen Road in 1998. It leases the office there, but plans to own its downtown headquarters site. Such a move would be hugely beneficial, city officials say. "That has been a business we've been working on to bring back," Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt said. The move would affect the city in several areas, including downtown housing and involvement in surrounding neighborhoods. Green Bay Press Gazette

Savings add up for BMO
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
BMO Financial Group is ahead of schedule on cost savings the Canadian bank projected it would achieve after its acquisition of Milwaukee's Marshall & Ilsley Corp. CEO William A. Downe said the company is about $40 million further along than it expected to be at this point in its integration of M&I, which it acquired last July for $4.1 billion. The acquisition of M&I was the largest in BMO's history. In an interview with Bloomberg News after the meeting Tuesday, Downe said the takeover of M&I was a "game changer" that allows Canada's fourth-largest lender to expand in the Midwest with further acquisitions. BMO will pursue more acquisitions after it finishes integrating M&I, Downe said. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Higher standards change lending game
Wisconsin Rapids Tribune
If a hopeful home buyer's credit report comes back with less-than-ideal results, mortgage broker Laura Leonhard often winds up acting as a financial counselor, explaining how to set up a monthly budget and the importance of paying utility bills on time. Lenders and bank officials throughout central Wisconsin agree that the process to get a mortgage or loan is vastly different today from the process just five or six years ago. Walter Molony, spokesman for the National Association of Realtors, said large banks are setting stricter limits, often "overcorrecting" for lax standards that contribute to the national mortgage crisis. John Proulx, senior vice president at Peoples State Bank in Weston, said large lenders want every assurance that they will be paid back and not wind up carrying another foreclosed home. Local lenders say tighter credit limits shouldn't scare off potential buyers. Wisconsin Rapids Tribune

Economy 'Very Challenging' as Interest Rates Rise
A recent rise in interest rates has caught the attention of the Federal Reserve, whose chief sees an economy that is showing gradual improvement. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said he remains concerned with the pace of growth. "It's an interesting period right now," he said of the current economic conditions. "We've seen some improvement, but we've still got a long way to go." The Fed has found itself in the middle of a market guessing game that has focused on when and whether the central bank will expand its easing programs. The Fed offered no clues as to when it might institute a third round of quantitative easing. Its most recent accommodative move ends in June, but with inflation concerns elevating, the central bank is unlikely to implement more easing unless the economic data shows a noticeable downturn. CNBC

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