If you'd like to put your money in one of the 359 safest banks in America, you've got only one choice in Northern California: The Merchants National Bank of Sacramento.
Merchants' leaders told me last week that the bank was one of only 16 in California recognized by Money.MSN.com. Reporter Sara Glakas undertook the project to find the safest places to put deposits.
"The FDIC's Deposit Insurance Fund aka the money used to cover bank failures has been all but drained." Glakas wrote. "In 2007, the DIF had a healthy $52.4 billion. But since 2008, more than 413 banks have failed, and that has taken a devastating toll on the once-solid reserve fund. According to the FDIC, the balance in the DIF is now just $11.8 billion."
Money.MSN.com researchers employed the so-called Texas Ratio, which predicted banks that would fail in Texas during the 1980s and in New England in the 1990s, to review more than 7,300 banks. Only 359 earned a perfect Texas Ratio of 0.0. (Find a link to the article at www.sacbee.com/anderson.)
James R. Pons, an executive vice president at Merchants, said the bank follows the fundamentals.
"When the bubble came in 2008, we didn't have any problem loans because we followed regular banking guidelines, obtaining financial information, getting credit reports," he said. " ... Once you do the basics, your loans are going to be good ones."
Amid the housing crisis, many mortgage holders discovered that loans had been repackaged and sold off. They were unable to talk directly to the entities holding them. That's not true at Merchants.
"In 90 years, we have not taken back any home," Pons said. "We retain all our loans. They're all portfolioed. We maintain them. We service them. Customers are able to talk directly to us if there's some issue."
Farewell to Alpine Valley
AMF Bowling Worldwide will close a second bowling center in the Sacramento region, Alpine Valley Lanes, on Florin Road.
Woodhaven Lanes closed July 12 in Woodland. The last day for Alpine Valley will be Aug. 26.
"It all comes down to traffic, the number of people coming in," said Merrell Wreden, AMF's vice president of marketing. " ... It's not performing."
Outside Alpine Valley last week, league bowlers told me that much more goes into their choice of bowling alley than meets the eye. They didn't always find consistent oil patterns in Alpine Valley's lanes or big enough purses from its leagues.
Recreational bowlers, on the other hand, said they were seeking entertainment beyond bowling laser tag, arcades, live music, for instance. Alpine lacked the bells and whistles of many newer bowling alleys.
Alpine Valley is one of about 15 centers closed by AMF this year. Wreden doesn't see the closures as a sign that bowling has waned in popularity.
"We have successful centers all over the country, so I don't think it's a trend," he said. "I think what happens is there may be competitive situations. There may be demographic shifts."
Michael Halchak, a Standard & Poor's credit analyst whose job includes watching companies in the bowling sector, has a different view: "There's been somewhat of a secular decline within bowling. That, coupled with the economic recession that we saw in that 2008 period, have reduced consumer discretionary income, and people's inability to spend has put pressure on the revenue generation ... of bowling centers throughout the U.S."
S&P and Moody's Investors Services have questioned whether AMF's profitability is strong enough to allow it to successfully refinance hundreds of millions of dollars in debt due next year. The privately held AMF, based near Richmond, Va., retained the investment banker Moelis & Co. last year to help it explore a sale.