U.S. Treasury Department sells Exchange Bank shares for $39.7 million

The U.S. Treasury Department announced Friday that it has sold its stake in Exchange Bank for $39.7 million, freeing the bank to resume dividends that fund the Doyle scholarship program.

The bank's board of directors, which halted dividends four years ago, must now decide whether to resume the payments. It will discuss the issue at its next meeting on Aug. 21, said president Bill Schrader.

"We're at a very important point, and we're excited to be able to have that discussion with the board," Schrader said. "And everyone's looking forward to the outcome of that decision."

The Treasury Department stock sale, which was conducted over a four-day auction that ended Thursday, is expected to be finalized by Aug. 10.

The government did not disclose the identities of the buyers. Exchange Bank was expected to be one of the bidders for its own stock, but Schrader would not say whether the bank participated in the auction, citing confidentiality agreements.

Details about the sale will be presented to the board at its next meeting, Schrader said.

"At that time, then the board can have their discussions as to what this means and how does it play into a final decision on a dividend," Schrader said. "This event that happened is one of the last doors in the regulation world to walk through to make that happen. But there are many more challenging issues to walk down that path."

Exchange Bank stopped dividends in 2008 three months before it borrowed $45 million from the Treasury Department under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, which was designed to shore up the U.S. banking system during the peak of the financial crisis. In exchange, the Treasury Department received preferred shares of stock in the bank, which entitled the government to interest payments.

The Doyle scholarship program, which is funded by the bank's largest shareholder, the Frank P. Doyle and Polly O'Meara Doyle Trust, was suspended after the bank ceased its dividend. Over the past 60 years, the program has helped 115,000 students attend Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Treasury Department prohibited the bank from resuming dividends until it repaid $43 million it received from the government and $2 million in fees that accompanied the TARP loan.

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