DO YOU EXPECT MORE BANKS TO GO SOUTH?

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It seems like the hits just keep coming. First BearStearns took a dive, then Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac hit the rocks,followed by dismal news of losses from Washington Mutual andWachovia. And if our poll respondents are correct, we haven't hitbottom yet. A staggering 83% predict more banks will go southbefore this is all over. Only 17% think we're over the hump. TomDidio, senior managing director with Holliday Fenoglio Fowler,takes a balanced view of the matter. Here are histhoughts:

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"I expect some of the more aggressive banks may have furtherquarters of depressed earnings and losses, but you have to becautious in terms of projecting into the future. There are stillplenty of solid banks that have made good loans over the years andthey will continue to generate good earnings. Banks like WellsFargo that have good asset bases can withstand a downturn in themarket. You have to look at the good and the bad. Everyone wants tojump on the bandwagon when there are valuation issues likeWachovia, Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, but I think there area lot of banks out there that are making quality loans because theyhave good borrowers.

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"I think you may see some further softness in the bankingmarket, but right now I think we've seen the worst of it. We may bethrough the tough part of this down cycle and I hope to see thingsget better over the next six to nine months.

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"Lenders have to stop sitting on their hands and start lendingmoney. If they do that, the market will get better. Right now,lenders are afraid to make loans, but the real estate market in NewJersey is pretty solid. There's no issue with the real estateitself, the issue is credit, and if people start lending, we'llwork our way out of this. People have to start lending and not beworried about someone looking over their shoulder and criticizingthem for making a real estate loan.

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"There are great borrowers in New Jersey, borrowers who are wellcapitalized, experienced, with big portfolios and good liquidity.In the past, institutional lenders wanted to lend in New Jersey.Now, we need people to say, 'ok, this is a great market and we'rewilling to extend credit.'"

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