NEW YORK (
) -- The troubled asset relief program (TARP) has meant many things to many banks.
, TARP was a stigma to be dispensed with as quickly as possible. As soon as the government let them, they issued equity and paid back the U.S. Treasury.
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, it was a nuisance that executives were determined not to let run its business. They did not want to dilute shareholders like
by issuing new equity to pay it back, but they ended up doing so nonetheless. Berkshire Chairman
said the government forced Wells to issue the equity, an assertion that was never addressed either by Wells or government officials.
Bank of America
needed the government funds more than executives there cared to admit, but they were only too happy to issue equity and pay it back at the first opportunity.
has done what it could to break free, but now it's waiting on the Treasury, which converted the remaining $25 billion of an initial $45 billion preferred equity stake into 7.7 billion common shares that it plans to sell off gradually.
For smaller banks, however -- and even large regionals -- the issue of when to repay TARP is not quite so fraught with politics. Eighty companies have paid back TARP so far out of 830 that have received a government bailout.
Some of these are not banks in the strictest sense, and there are still some large companies out there, like
, each of whose efforts to pay back the government is a story unto itself.
Our goal here is to look at five large traditional banks -- ones that used to be known as super regionals -- that have yet to pay back TARP, and to try to figure out when they might do so. It may give us a decent clue about how the more than 700 smaller banks that still hold TARP funds are likely to proceed.
When banks pay back TARP often has a lot to do with when they can consistently report a profit. An analysis by
(see pop-up chart above) shows that of the 80 companies that have paid back TARP, 69 were profitable two quarters before doing so. Some of those turned in a loss in subsequent quarters either just prior to or shortly after paying back TARP. Only one,
, showed a loss for all four quarters covered by SNL's analysis, which runs from two quarters before TARP recipients paid back the government through the first quarter following their payment.
In short, don't count on any bank paying back TARP until they show they have emerged from the crisis with at least one or two quarters of profitability. Beyond that, the big issue is whether or not they'll need to sell stock to shore up capital levels as part of clearing their bailout tabs. Here, then, are five of the largest TARP holdouts that tend not to command the national spotlight, and a look at their prospects for profitability, which ought to tell us a lot about when they are likely to pay back the Treasury and if they'll have to issue stock to do it.