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Regional Banks May Soon Be Buyers

"I think we are going to see buyers being very disciplined and patiently waiting until a target is either on the brink of failure or just in a very distressed situation where they are forced to talk to someone who has a stronger balance sheet," McEvoy says.

At year-end, 252 insured institutions with combined assets of $159 billion were on the FDIC's "Problem List," the agency said.

For all of 2008, there were 292 bank mergers, 25 bank failures and 5 federally assisted transactions, the largest number of failed and assisted institutions in a year since 1993, according to the FDIC.

Patten believes there are between 200 and 500 banks that need to be acquired. The list includes primarily small banks with limited access to capital and limited diversification of revenue streams, holding real estate loans and properties they are unable to unload. The Federal Reserve or FDIC do not have the resources to take over those banks, he says.

Kevin Reynolds, an analyst at Wunderlich Securities, says that more than 50 problem banks are headquartered in the Atlanta market alone.

Like Florida, it is one of the worst-hit markets because of the construction loans that many banks doled out during the residential housing boom and are now suffering from the market meltdown.

The Atlanta market is prime picking for regionals like SunTrust, which is headquartered there, and other Southern regional banks like Birmingham, Ala.-based Regions Financial (RF).

"Atlanta, as a single market, has some of the greatest credit risk and the greatest number of banks that have failed," Reynolds says, who covers Southern mid-cap and small banks, made similar statements regarding M&A. "You're going to see a lot of forced sales and or receiverships [in Atlanta and Florida]."

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