Another bank fails: 95th this year

Regulators on Friday shut down Atlanta-based Georgian Bank, the 95th U.S. bank to fail this year as loan defaults rise in the worst financial climate in decades.

In coming months, more banks are expected to buckle under the weight of commercial real estate and other loans that go sour. Those failures could imperil the insurance fund for deposits, already at the lowest point in nearly 20 years.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. took over Georgian Bank, with about $2 billion in assets and $2 billion in deposits as of July 24. First Citizens Bank and Trust Co., based in Columbia, S.C., agreed to assume the assets and deposits of the failed bank. Georgian Bank’s five branches will reopen Monday as offices of First Citizens Bank.

In addition, the FDIC and First Citizens Bank agreed to share losses on Georgian Bank’s roughly $2 billion in loans and other assets.

The failure of Georgian Bank is expected to cost the federal deposit insurance fund an estimated $892 million. The fund has been so diminished by the wave of collapsing banks that some analysts have warned it could sink into the red by year’s end.

The fund fell 20 percent to $10.4 billion at the end of June. That’s its lowest point since 1992, at the height of the savings-and-loan crisis. The FDIC estimates bank failures will cost the fund around $70 billion through 2013.

FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair said last week she is “considering all options, including borrowing from Treasury,” to replenish the insurance fund. The FDIC is weighing several costly, and never before used, options for shoring up the fund: borrowing billions of dollars from healthy banks, imposing a special fee on the banking industry or tapping the agency’s $500 billion credit line with the Treasury.

Another option would be for banks to pay their normal insurance fees in advance. But U.S. Comptroller of the Currency John Dugan said Thursday he was “very concerned” about the effect of such an upfront levy on the strained banking industry.

The FDIC is fully backed by the government. That means depositors’ money is guaranteed up to $250,000 per account. And the agency still has billions in loss reserves — including $21.6 billion in cash — apart from the insurance fund.

Meanwhile, Treasury Department officials and federal bank regulators are weighing a fresh round of bailouts for banks that were deemed too small or too risky to qualify for earlier aid under the government’s $700 billion financial rescue program. Representatives from Treasury, the FDIC and the House Financial Services Committee discussed the plan by phone Thursday, officials said.

Bank failures have spread nationwide, but the 19 in Georgia this year are the most of any state. That’s a reflection of the depressed real estate market and of a glut of small community banks in the state.

Hundreds more banks are expected to fail nationwide in the next few years largely because of souring loans for commercial real estate. The number of banks on the FDIC’s confidential “problem list” jumped to 416 at the end of June from 305 in the first quarter. That’s the highest number since June 1994, during the savings-and-loan crisis.

On Aug. 21, Guaranty Bank became the second-largest U.S. bank to fail this year after the big Texas lender was shut down and most of its operations sold at a loss of billions of dollars for the government to a major Spanish bank. The failure, the 10th-largest in U.S. history, is expected to cost the insurance fund an estimated $3 billion.

The sale of most of Austin-based Guaranty’s operations to the U.S. division of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, Spain’s No. 2 bank, marked the first time a foreign bank has bought a failed American bank during the current financial crisis.

And on Aug. 14, Colonial Bank, a big lender in real estate development, was shuttered and became the biggest U.S. bank to fail this year and the sixth-largest in U.S. history, with about $25 billion in assets. The government approved the sale of Montgomery, Ala.-based Colonial’s $20 billion in deposits and about $22 billion of its assets to BB&T Corp. Colonial was a major lender to developers in Florida and Nevada and was hit hard by the collapse of the real estate market in those states.

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