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Huntington Bank 'bullish' on W.Va. economy

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Huntington National Bank officials are optimistic about the West Virginia economy, citing a strong housing market and potential natural gas and chemical industry expansion in the state.

"We're real bullish on West Virginia," said Andy Paterno, president of Huntington's West Virginia region.

The bank's parent company -- Columbus, Ohio-based Huntington Bancshares -- reported first quarter earnings Tuesday morning.

The company reported net income of $151.8 million, or 17 cents a share, for the first quarter of 2013. That was down about 1 percent from the first quarter of 2012 and 9 percent from the prior quarter.

Huntington president and chief executive officer Stephen Steinour said a challenging economic and regulatory environment served as headwinds for the quarter, but said the company anticipates solid growth moving forward.

"While some companies are hesitant to invest in light of the uncertain economy, we will continue to look for areas where we can improve efficiency, continue to deliver positive operating leverage, and selectively invest in our businesses in order to drive our long-term profitability," Steinour said.

Paterno said the company has seen nearly 12 percent annualized growth in household and business accounts.

He said the company, which has locations in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, West Virginia, and Kentucky, added 36,274 household checking accounts in the first quarter and 4,500 new business customers.

In West Virginia, he said the company is seeing strength in the housing market.

"We're seeing a lot of activity in mortgages," Paterno said.

In previous years, the company saw strength in customers refinancing home loans. Now, Paterno said, that strength seems to have shifted to loans for new home construction or purchases.

"I think people have pent up demand," he said. "They've kept their houses for a little too long, and now they're looking for new houses."

He said the company has beefed up its loan and back office staff in the state to handle the increased lending demand.

Paterno also said the bank has seen modest increases in manufacturing business recently, and believes chemical and plastics manufacturing will pick up once further development in the Marcellus shale region kicks in.

"We see that as a real positive in the state -- we're lucky we have all this gas here," he said.

 "We wish there was more jobs, of course, and more other things going on, but we're bullish on what the future holds here," he said.

In addition to announcing earnings, Huntington also announced it would increase its quarterly dividend from 4 to 5 cents a share. The dividend is payable July 1 to shareholders of record as of June 17.

Also, the company announced a $227 million stock buyback plan, a 25 percent increase from their previous buyback plan.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at or 304-348-4836.



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