Watchman Newsletter

Bailed-Out Banks Slip Toward Failure

The Wall Street Journal (Link) - Michael Rapoport (December 26, 2010)

Nearly 100 U.S. banks that got bailout funds from the federal government show signs they are in jeopardy of failing.

The total, based on an analysis of third-quarter financial results by The Wall Street Journal, is up from 86 in the second quarter, reflecting eroding capital levels, a pileup of bad loans and warnings from regulators. The 98 banks in shaky condition got more than $4.2 billion in infusions from the Treasury Department under the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

When TARP was created in the heat of the financial crisis, government officials said it would help only healthy banks. The depth of today�s problems for some of the institutions, however, suggests that a number of them were in parlous shape from the beginning.

Seven TARP recipients have already failed, resulting in more than $2.7 billion in lost TARP funds. Most of the troubled TARP recipients are small, plagued by wayward lending programs from which they might not recover. The median size of the 98 banks was $439 million in assets as of Sept. 30. The median TARP infusion for each was $10 million, federal filings show.

�We certainly understand and recognize that some of the smaller institutions are experiencing stress,� said David Miller, chief investment officer at the Treasury Department�s Office of Financial Stability, which runs TARP. He noted that Congress mandated that banks of all sizes be eligible for TARP, adding that the government�s TARP investment as a whole is performing well.

Chris Cole, senior regulatory counsel at the Independent Community Bankers of America, a trade group, said small banks are �turning around slowly.� Smaller TARP recipients are in worse shape than larger banks because the larger ones got help in addition to TARP, Mr. Cole said. Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc. tapped the Federal Reserve�s emergency-liquidity programs frequently during the crisis.

The troubled banks identified by the Journal all have either a Tier 1 capital ratio under the �well-capitalized� 6% level; both a total risk-based capital ratio of under the �well-capitalized� 10% threshold and nonperforming loans of over 10% of their portfolio; or a regulatory order requiring the bank to monitor or boost its capital.

A Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. spokesman declined to comment on the Journal�s analysis, which also calculated that 814 of the nation�s 7,760 banks and savings institutions are troubled according to these standards, up from 729 at the end of the second quarter. The FDIC�s official list of problem banks, which uses different criteria from the Journal�s analysis, includes 860 financial institutions. The banks aren�t publicly identified.

In October, the Government Accountability Office said 78 banks on the FDIC�s troubled-bank list as of June 30 were TARP recipients, up from 47 at the end of 2009. Dozens of TARP banks were �marginal institutions� that were financially weaker than other recipients and should have gotten more scrutiny before receiving taxpayer-funded infusions, the GAO said.

In a response to the GAO report, the Treasury Department said it would consider the GAO�s recommendations to improve its funding process if it ever has a program similar to TARP again.

In comparison, the first eight banks and securities firms receiving TARP got a total of $125 billion. All have repaid the funds.

Arthur Wilmarth, a George Washington University law professor and expert on banking regulation, said a lot of smaller TARP recipients are burdened with risky commercial-real-estate loans tied up in troubled strip malls and the like, and that makes it hard for them to raise new capital. �A lot of them are in kind of a frozen position,� he said.

One example of a TARP recipient in deep trouble: closely held Legacy Bank of Milwaukee. The bank had $205 million in assets as of Sept. 30 and got $5.5 million in TARP funds in January 2009. But more than half of Legacy�s loans were in commercial real estate, and its nonperforming loans have escalated to 23% of its portfolio. It has posted eight straight quarterly losses, for a total loss of $11.6 million.

Last month, the Federal Reserve declared Legacy �significantly undercapitalized,� giving the bank until mid-January to either sell itself or raise more capital.

Jos� Mantilla, Legacy�s president and chief executive, said the bank lends to an underserved, lower-income customer base. During the recession, those customers �have suffered, and they have fallen behind,� Mr. Mantilla said.

Legacy is working to raise capital, and �we still feel optimistic� about the bank�s chances, he said.

CommunityOne Bank of Asheboro, N.C., got $51.5 million in TARP funds in February 2009 through parent FNB United Corp. The company has suffered nine straight quarterly losses, sapping its capital. In July, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said the bank had engaged in �unsafe or unsound banking practices.�

R. Larry Campbell, the bank�s interim president and chief executive, said CommunityOne is �fully engaged� in efforts to boost its capital. �

America ~ Economic Crisis