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Mortgages, Credit Hurt M&T Bank, Sovereign Bancorp

M&T Bankand Sovereign Bancorp, two of the largest banks in the eastern United States, said on Monday turmoil in credit, mortgage and real estate markets hurt fourth-quarter results.

Shares of both lenders fell.

The problems may foreshadow weakness at other large U.S. banks, nearly all of which are expected to report lower fourth-quarter results this month.

Some are expected to post losses, including the largest U.S. bank, Citigroup, on Tuesday and Washington Mutual, the largest U.S. thrift, on Thursday.

Buffalo, New York-based M&T, which counts Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway among its largest investors, said profit fell 70 percent to $64.9 million, or 60 cents per share, from $213.3 million, or $1.88, a year earlier. Operating profit was 77 cents per share, the bank said.

Results were hurt by losses of $78 million, or 71 cents per share, to write down collateralized debt obligations tied to mortgages, and $29 million, or 27 cents per share, for other credit losses.

Excluding several items, profit was $1.52 per share, 33 cents below the average analyst forecast, according to Reuters Estimates.

"Turmoil in the residential real estate market" hurt results, Chief Financial Officer Rene Jones said on a conference call. "It is difficult to predict the depth and breadth of the current credit cycle."

Philadelphia-based Sovereign, the second-largest U.S. savings and loan, announced $1.58 billion of write-offs. It wrote down $600 million of goodwill tied to consumer lending, and $800 million of goodwill related to its 2006 purchase of Brooklyn, New York's Independence Community Bank, where revenue and deposit growth has been slower than expected.

Sovereign also wrote down $180 million for preferred stock investments in mortgage financiers Fannie Maeand Freddie Mac . It added $88 million to its reserves for credit losses, and took a $27 million charge for two mortgage customers in default. It expects to report results on January 23.

"We're significantly increasing our reserves to prepare for what we think could be weakening credit in 2008," Chief Financial Officer Mark McCollom said in an interview.

M&T has $64.9 billion in assets and more than 650 branches in seven mid-Atlantic states and Washington, D.C. Sovereign had about $86.6 billion of assets as of Sept 30 and operates 750 branches in eight northeast and mid-Atlantic states.

Both also have large foreign investors. Allied Irish Banks owns about one-fourth of M&T. Spain's Banco Santanderowns about one-fourth of Sovereign.

Berkshire owned a roughly 6.3 percent stake in M&T as of Sept 30, according to Thomson ShareWatch.

In morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange, M&T shares fell $2.22, or 3 percent, to $71.53, while Sovereign shares fell 53 cents, or 5 percent, to $10.15.

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