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2020 breaks Bank of North Dakota streak of record profits; total assets surpass $9B

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The Bank of North Dakota.

Bank of North Dakota profits ended a 16-year streak of record profits in 2020, but the institution's head says the year was still the bank's best ever. 

The nation's only state-owned bank reported a $141.2 million profit last year, down from $169 million in 2019. President and CEO Eric Hardmeyer attributes the drop to a combination of factors, including the Federal Reserve driving down interest rates amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"Of course when that happens, when you go that quickly, that is going to affect banks in terms of what we call compression, so that there doesn't leave a lot of margin for profit, really," he said. "It squeezes profit margins by rates being driven so low."

The bank also moved to put money into reserves for future losses amid an energy sector downturn and business impacts from the pandemic, he said.

The bank's total assets ended 2020 at $7.7 billion, an increase of $700 million due to federal CARES Act coronavirus aid -- "the largest we've ever ended a year," Hardmeyer said.

Last week, the bank's total assets surpassed $9 billion for the first time, largely due to federal money rolling in, he said.

"Banks right now are flush with cash," he said. "There's a lot of what we call liquidity in the banking system right now, and so some of that money gets parked at BND."

Despite the broken streak of record profits, Hardmeyer, who retires July 6, believes "that this was our best year ever." Bank profits are "only one aspect," he said.

"To me 2020 was a year that BND really delivered on its mission and showed what it can do in times of great need and stress, so that's why I think in my experience of having been there 35 years now, it was I think the most incredible year for BND in terms of delivering on its mission and really helping with the economic needs," he told the Tribune.

The bank had "a bit of a blueprint" for responding to the pandemic after flood and agriculture disasters in years past, and watched to see what the federal response would be before tailoring its own aid, Hardmeyer said.

The bank launched several business relief programs using CARES Act money and bank capital, including: 

  • Small Employer Loan Fund: 886 loans for $29.9 million
  • COVID-PACE Recovery I Loan Program: 271 loans for $341 million total loan amount (bank’s portion was $215 million)
  • COVID-PACE Recovery II Program: $35 million to 810 businesses

The bank also worked with the banking community to link businesses to federal aid, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, which covered payroll costs.

Also in 2020, the bank's total loan portfolio increased to $4.7 billion, including increases of $116 million to the agriculture loan portfolio and $194 million to the business loan portfolio.

The bank is overseen by the Industrial Commission, comprising the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner. In a statement, the panel commended the bank's year.

“BND once again fulfilled its mission to ‘assist agriculture, commerce and industry’ in a very big way in 2020. Its ability to assess needs and respond quickly to ensure economic stability and recovery is greatly appreciated by the Commission and residents of North Dakota," the board said in a joint statement.

The bank's 2020 annual report is available online at bit.ly/3zigiKx.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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