Exchange Bank on Tuesday reported its second straight annual profit, putting more distance between it and the dark days of 2008 and 2009 when the bank lost more than $22 million.
But executives say the bank still is not in a position to resume paying a dividend, the sole source of revenue for the Doyle Scholarship that has helped generations of students attend Santa Rosa Junior College until its suspension in 2008.
Sonoma County's largest and oldest community bank netted $12.2 million in 2011, up 19 percent from 2010, a welcome sign to those who see the bank as a regional economic barometer.
"To me it's a very positive sign," said Ben Stone, director of the Sonoma County's Economic Development Board. "The fact they are swinging back to profitability is broader sign of recovery."
The trust that administers the Doyle scholarship is Exchange Bank's majority shareholder, an arrangement established by the bank's co-founder, Frank Doyle,
"The work that we need to do is unfinished," said Bill Schrader, Exchange's president and CEO. "Maintaining capital is the prudent action to take in periods of uncertainty."
The bank's caution has become a source of frustration for some. In December, about a hundred protestors, including many college students, descended on Exchange's Roseland branch, urging the bank to resume its dividend.
But bank officials say they're still nursing the bank back to health. Even after posting fourth-quarter earnings of $3.2 million on Tuesday, its eleventh straight quarter in the black, the bank remains saddled with $48.3 million in delinquent loans, foreclosed properties and other non-performing assets.
That figure is down from $75 million at the height of the recession, but it remains well above the bank's stated target of $35 million.
Additionally, its financial health is entwined with the county as a whole, which has shown an uneven pace of recovery, Schrader said.