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The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C., Finance Column

Aug 26, 2007

By Peter Hull, The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C.

Aug. 27--BANKS' TROUBLED REAL ESTATE LOANS UP FIFTH MONTH IN ROW: By now, I'm sure you've read my story in Sunday's paper about the mortgage crisis sweeping the nation. Until now, it's mostly mortgage companies caught up in the mess, with some of the biggest names in the business going, well, out of business.

Then last week, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. had some ominous news: Banks' troubled real estate loans rose for the fifth month running to total almost $70 billion.

Real estate loans overdue by 90 days or more were up 36 percent from a year ago and up 10.6 percent from the end of the first quarter.

Tho overdue loans totaled $27.5 billion, a 47 percent increase from a year ago and a 12 percent jump from the end of the last period.

Further, commercial banks and savings institutions insured by the FDIC reported net income of $36.7 billion for the second quarter, down $1.3 billion, or 3.4 percent, from the same period last year. Nevertheless, it marked the fourth-best quarterly earnings ever reported.

BANK RATE: Sticking with banks, congratulations to First National Bancshares Inc., holding company for First National Bank, which was named one of the nation's top 50 community banks by U.S. Banker magazine. The ranking is based on three-year average return on equity.

First National's three-year average return of 16.14 percent ranked 50th on the list of 200 community banks from across the country.

Spartanburg-based First National has local branches in downtown Charleston and in Mount Pleasant, and a loan production office on Daniel Island.

THE PROGRESSIVE CHURCH: Finally, some news of the weird -- and not surprisingly, it comes from the insurance industry.

Newswire service Reuters reported last week that the head of one of the leading insurers in non-standard, high-risk personal auto insurance apologized for his company's recent unusual behavior: spying in church on people who had sued the company.

Glenn Renwick, chief executive of Progressive Corp. , apologized for hiring private detectives, to go undercover to join an Atlanta church group in order to discredit a couple suing the insurer.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in August 2005 Progressive hired a pair of detectives who became members of the Southside Christian Fellowship Church to get damaging information on two church members involved in a 2004 traffic accident.

The targets filed a lawsuit against Progressive and the detectives, charging them with invasion of privacy and fraud, among other issues, the paper said. That's probably not the kind of intervention the churchgoers were looking for.

Reach Peter Hull at 937-5594 or phull@postandcourier.com.

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