PhillyDeals: Is pressure on RBS holding back Citizens Bank in Philly?

U.K. regulators want Royal Bank of Scotland to sell Citizens Bank, but it is resisting.
U.K. regulators want Royal Bank of Scotland to sell Citizens Bank, but it is resisting. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff)
Posted: December 26, 2012

We heard a lot four years ago about how quick and massive intervention by the U.S. and European governments kept the financial system from collapsing.

But lenders who lost billions financing dumb property speculation, and were bailed out by public investments, are still having to cope with the government conditions that kept them in business. It's one reason the economy remains slow.

For example, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has been resisting pressure to sell its U.S. arm, including Citizens Bank, to raise badly needed cash. Under similar pressure from its own bailout masters, the Dutch-Belgian giant ING Group agreed to sell Wilmington-based ING Direct Bank, the largest U.S. Internet lender. It's now part of Virginia-based Capital One Corp., which is boosting energy, health care, and home loans.

In October, the U.K. bank resolution agency urged RBS to sell Citizens. In November, RBS chief executive Stephen Hester said the U.S. arm is important to the company's future and he'd rather not sell. Last week, U.K. financial media reported that RBS is having a tough time selling other assets of which it would prefer to rid itself.

Has this distraction hurt Philadelphia's recovery or Citizens' ability to play its part?

FDIC data show that Citizens, which operates former PSFS and Girard Bank branches in the Philadelphia area, has closed a net 21 of its 400 former branches in Pennsylvania since 2007. That's not so unusual: Wells Fargo and PNC Bank have also shut offices.

But FDIC data also show that Citizens' branch deposits in the eight-county Philadelphia area - not counting corporate or remote deposits assigned to it - are flat at $11 billion over the same period, while equivalent deposits have risen by $2 billion or more at rivals Wells Fargo, PNC, and TD Bank.

Gone

Jon Ruggles, the former oil trader who headed Delta Airlines' jet-purchasing arm, was an architect of that company's bold decision to take over the former ConocoPhillips refinery in Trainer. But Ruggles has left the company just as the experiment is getting interesting, reports Platt's, the McGraw-Hill oil-industry newsletter.

The airline hoped to exploit the gap between high East Coast jet-fuel prices and falling oil prices, as measured by the Brent Crude benchmark for North Sea oil that has been a North Atlantic refinery fuel of choice. Those spreads are still "healthy" for jet fuel, but have fallen to "loser" levels for other fuels that Trainer also produces, Platt's notes.

"Eventually, Delta will need to disclose some general information on the refinery's status in its quarterly earnings releases," Platt's concluded. "Until then, its financial condition will be mostly speculation, fueled beyond normal by Jon Ruggles' departure."

Apartment buys

Is there still a premium for a nice suburban location?

BET Investments Inc. thinks so. The investment company founded by Toll Bros. cofounder Bruce E. Toll said last week that it would pay Sara K. Gowing's Quaker Group $37 million for two apartment complexes: the 150-unit Newtown Place apartments, near the Yardley/Newtown exit on I-95, and the 80-unit Wynmere Chase apartments, near the Willow Grove and Horsham exits of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

BET plans improvements and higher rents, BET president Mike Marhman told me.

Still, that's triple the $50,000 per unit Post Bros. Co. agreed to pay this month for the landmark Presidential City Apartments complex, inside the city limits near the City Avenue exit of the Schuylkill Expressway.


Contact Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194, JoeD@phillynews.com, or @PhillyJoeD on Twitter.

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