Bill for losses at failed U.S. banks nears $9B

By Dow Jones Newswires-Wall Street Journal
Posted March 17 at 5:53 a.m.

U.S. banking regulators have paid out nearly $9 billion to cover losses on loans and other assets at 165 failed institutions that were sold to stronger companies during the financial crisis.

The payments were made under loss-sharing agreements struck by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. that shield buyers from much of the risk associated with loans inherited from failed banks. The deals, covering everything from empty Las Vegas shopping centers to nearly worthless mortgages in Florida, are a reminder of the price tag attached to many government programs launched near the worst of the crisis.

As the number of bank failures surged, FDIC officials dangled loss-share arrangements as an incentive for banks to acquire institutions and then work to improve the value of their assets over time.

As of Jan. 31, the latest month for which figures are available, the FDIC has paid out $8.89 billion to banks under the loss-share agreements. Such deals are in place at 236 financial institutions, with the FDIC agreeing to assume most future losses on $160 billion of assets.

FDIC officials expect to make an additional $21.5 billion in payments from 2011 to 2014. More than half of that total is predicted for this year, followed by an estimated $6 billion in loss-share reimbursements in 2012, according to the agency. Some of the loss-share deals will be in place for 10 years.

The payments to date are smaller than FDIC officials anticipated, and they say it would cost much more to liquidate the mountain of bad loans at fair-market value. The FDIC said Wednesday that it couldn’t be more specific about its previous estimates for future payouts because the agency continually revises those estimates based on new loss-share deals and claims submitted under existing arrangements.

Some executives at U.S. banks that bought failed institutions using the FDIC lifeline agreed that losses on the troubled loans aren’t piling up as high or as fast as they previously anticipated.

“The process is working,” said James Wigand, who oversaw FDIC sales of failed banks during the crisis and leads a new division of the agency responsible for the largest U.S. banks. Enticing new owners to work out troubled assets slowly “minimized the effects of a bank’s failure on local communities,” he added.

The program helped the FDIC’s deposit-insurance fund, drained by 350 failures since the start of 2007, avoid even worse calamity, he said. The fund had a balance of negative $7.4 billion as of Dec. 31, though that was an improvement from the $20 billion hole it was in at the end of 2009. About 2,100 financial institutions failed during the banking industry’s last big crisis in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The biggest stream of reimbursements, $1.21 billion in all, has gone to BankUnited Inc. of Miami Lakes, Fla. Its private-equity owners resurrected a similarly named savings institution that collapsed in 2009 under the weight of home loans made before the housing bust. The FDIC is on the hook to cover as much as 95 percent of losses on some loans at BankUnited, which went public in January.

Those were some of the sweetest terms offered by the FDIC, which became less generous as more banks scrambled to buy failed financial institutions. Regulators have seized and sold 25 financial institutions this year, down from 30 in the same period last year. Among deals for this year’s 25 institutions, 11 didn’t include any loss-sharing protection.

“We are getting better performance than we thought due to a combination of ways that these loans are getting settled,” said John Kanas, BankUnited’s chairman, president and chief executive. As a result, the company expects to seek total payments of roughly $4 billion from the FDIC, a decline of about $1 billion.

To get money from the U.S. government, bankers must provide detailed documentation about the soured loans and efforts made to seek payment from the borrower. Approved claims are paid out of the deposit-insurance fund, which is funded by required contributions from the nation’s 7,657 banks and thrifts.

FDIC officials record the expected losses on troubled loans when the failed bank that owns the assets is sold. Wigand said the agency “periodically” adjusts its loss estimates “because of changing market conditions and how much of the portfolios have been resolved.”

The downside protection of loss-share arrangements gives banks potential to make a strong profit on the detritus inherited from doomed institutions. Those odds will become more favorable if borrowers start repaying their debts as the U.S. economy improves.

“When we did our very first 1 8 failed-bank 3 8 deal, we thought it was nuclear winter,” said Dennis Zember, chief financial officer at Ameris Bancorp (ABCB), the Moultrie, Ga., buyer of six banks seized by regulators. “We didn’t think we’d collect anything” from some borrowers.

Ameris executives now expect to finish cleaning up 70 percent of the loan portfolios at the failed banks by year end. As of Jan. 31, the FDIC had paid Ameris a total of $26 million for losses at three failed banks.

BB&T Corp., of Winston-Salem, N.C., has received $1.09 billion in reimbursements for soured loans it got in the 2009 takeover of Colonial BancGroup Inc.’s failed banking operations. Colonial, of Montgomery, Ala., is the fifth-largest bank failure in U.S. history.

“We are very pleased that our efforts have resulted in the portfolio performing better than our original estimates,” said a BB&T spokeswoman. Many of Colonial’s loans were concentrated in Florida construction and land development.

U.S. Bancorp has collected $594.2 million under loss-share deals struck by the Minneapolis bank when it bought PFF Bancorp’s PFF Bank & Trust in Pomona, Calif., in 2008 and FBOP Corp.’s California National Bank in 2009. A U.S. Bancorp spokesman didn’t return phone calls for comment.

As of January, seven banks with loss-share deals had no reimbursements from the FDIC. The biggest: OneWest Bank FSB, Pasadena, Calif., which bought the loan portfolio of failed IndyMac Bank FSB. OneWest executives declined to comment on the company’s loss-sharing arrangement.

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One comment:

  1. jack (me) March 17 at 9:10 a.m.

    This doesn’t say how the FDIC got the money to cover the “balance of negative $7.4 billion.” Anticipated, or real money created by the Federal Reserve or out of the Treasury? It doesn’t appear like the old saw that “FDIC is financed by insurance premiums levied on banks” holds up, and hence no incentive on banks to clean up their acts, not that they wouldn’t have passed the costs on, anyway.

    Nothing said here about how much the local saviors, such as MB and Wintrust received.

    Also, no comparison to the 1980s S&L debacle, although one thing in common between the two was bad loans in Florida.