May 10--As the economy improves, banks headquartered in South Florida are loaning more money to businesses and individuals -- billions of dollars more.
The 10 largest with branches in Broward or Palm Beach counties all expect lending to increase in 2014. Most are already showing dramatic increases.
The biggest, Miami Lakes-based BankUnited, recorded $1.1 billion in new loans from January to March.
John A. Kanas, BankUnited's chairman, president and CEO, expects more than $1 billion in new loans in each of the remaining three quarters. BankUnited's new loans more than doubled in the year ending March 31, to $8.6 billion.
"We are continuing to enjoy the economic recovery of the entire state," Kanas said. "It's showing up dramatically in loan demand at every level."
BankUnited's recent lending included a $60 million loan for improvements to the Lauderdale Marine Center in Fort Lauderdale, a 50-acre boatyard and marina, one of the nation's largest.
Weston-based Florida Community Bank -- the biggest bank based in Broward County -- ramped up its new lending from just under $1 billion a year in March 2013 to $1.9 billion this past March, apart from the recent acquisition of Miami Lakes-based Great Florida Bank.
"We are very pleased with the Bank's continued financial momentum," President and CEO Kent Ellert said in a written statement.
Bankers said they have become more confident to lend since South Florida came out of the recession in late 2012, with the economy gathering steam in 2013 and appearing to strengthen this year.
Increased lending also is a sign that banks themselves are financially stronger -- and that more South Floridians are confident enough to borrow money, said Lynn Wines, president and CEO of Boca Raton-based First Southern Bank.
"We've come through the worst of times," Wines said. First Southern, which is being acquired by Central Florida-based CenterState, has been loaning about 20 percent more in the last year, she said.
Dave Seleski, president and CEO of Pompano Beach-based Stonegate Bank, agreed, saying: "The economy in southeast Florida is night and day better than what it used to be. There are a lot more opportunities."
Stonegate has increased new loans by $456 million annually, to $1.18 billion as of March.
Many banks are focusing on loaning to businesses, including professionals such as doctors, attorneys and accountants.
"We've been working on delivering very competitive loans to small businesses, individuals and larger businesses," said Dwight Hill, a vice president for Miami-based Sabadell Bank, which has two Broward branches and four in Palm Beach.
Sabadell increased its new-loan total to $2.8 billion for the year ending in March, a 28 percent increase from the year before.
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