Bank outlook points to positive economy

SANTA ROSA -- Seen by many as a barometer for the health of the Sonoma County economy, Santa Rosa-based Exchange Bank experienced what its top executive said was the "first year in five years we've seen meaningful loan growth" in 2013.

[caption id="attachment_87377" align="alignleft" width="154"] Bill Schrader[/caption]

That 8.2 percent increase in loan volume represents what Bill Schrader, president and CEO, said was a gradual recovery of the confidence of businesses and willingness for those companies to be more bullish on prospects for growth in 2014.

Yet unknowns remain, including the financial implications of health care reform for business and the idea of a "new normal" in consumer and business spending, he said.Household finances 'heal'

"I feel we have more optimism about the U.S. economy, the state economy and the local economy than in the past three years," Mr. Schrader said. "I think households are beginning to feel secure, and are seeing their finances begin to heal."

While grateful that many key areas of the economy have rebounded, he said many areas still need to improve.

Exchange Bank ended 2013 with a 28 percent increase in annual earnings. Loans totaled $1.1 billion, and deposits $1.6 billion. The bank had $1.78 billion in assets at year-end.

Active economic sectors included tourism, tech and agriculture, with benefits rippling out from the fast-moving economies of San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Mr. Schrader said.

The year also marked the onset of the Federal Reserve's gradual tapering of billions in monthly bond purchases that have, among other activities, kept interest rates at historic lows. Coupled with uncertainties around the Affordable Care Act, federal policies' effect on the regional economy is likely to be a topic of close interest in 2014, according to Greg Jahn, chief financial officer.

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