Banks 'Alive and Performing' Despite More Failures

With the failure of Guaranty Bank of Austin, the list of U.S. bank failures for 2009 has swelled to 81, and Rochdale Securities analyst Richard Bove sees that number rising to between 150 and 200 before the financial crisis is over.

“Let’s keep this in perspective," said Camden Fine, the CEO of Independent Community Bankers of America. "In 1989, 589 banks failed in that single year alone, so 200 more banks over the next three or four quarters is literally less than 2 percent of all banks.”

Guaranty Bank was the second largest bank failure of the year, and its assets were sold to Spain's BBVA Compass, marking the first foreign acquisition of a failed U.S. bank.

The transaction is expected to cost the Federal Depository Insurance Corp. $3 billion, dipping deeper into already low FDIC reserves.

"There have been some hits to the fund," said Donald Powell, former FDIC chairman and board member of Bank of America . "This happened in the late '80s and banks will be assessed to replenish the fund. In good times, we should be allowed to make that fund much larger."

Despite some weakness in the banking industry, banking is "alive and peforming every day," Powell said.

Community banking has remained an area of strength.

“Most community banks practice what I call plain-vanilla banking," said Fine. "It’s your old mom-and-pop banking that you extend credit, you have a relationship, you look at your borrower in the eye.”

In the fourth quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009, for instance, community bank lending rose, said Camden. Although lending stilll remains relatively soft due to a limited number of borrowers and the harsh examination environment, 98 percent of community banks are “doing fine," he said.

“The healthy banks pull in their horns until the harsh environment passes,” he said. “No banker wants to have to put capital back into loan loss reserves when they don’t think that’s justified.”

As the economy improves, Powell expects banks will become more engaged in extending credit.

“Banks make money by loaning,” he said. “In order to make a return on their investment, their equity, they got to loan some money.”

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  • Guaranty Bank Shuttered, Assets Sold to BBVA