NEW YORK (
) -- Given the composition of bidders for failed and troubled banks, it appears that ordinary investors won't have the same opportunity to reap benefits of the recovery the way they did in the 1990s.
The last giant wave of bank failures came with the savings and loan crisis that kicked off in the late 1980s. Between 1989 and 1995, a huge number of banks failed as a result of poor lending practices that caused losses to pile up high. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. estimates $95 billion in losses from 1,432 failed banks over that period.
Both private and public bank investors were allowed to pick at the failed institutions' skeletons. Some transactions received FDIC assistance, while others took advantage of the
Resolution Trust Corp.
, a structure for investors to acquire failed bank assets.
Private-equity investors like
J. Christopher Flowers
garnered a reputation for locking in huge profits as a result of the S&L crisis. They had plenty of capital, and the federal government was providing assistance on losses, while offering assets for a steal just to get the problem off its hands.
But "regular" banks -- and their investors -- also did well.
Bank of America
picked up quite a few small S&L gems through the 1990s in its former life as a regional southern bank called both
. Of course NationsBank became the behemoth it is today from buying much healthier commercial banks like C&S/Sovran, Boatmen's Bancshares, BankAmerica, FleetBoston and LaSalle, and then moved into other territory with the MBNA, U.S. Trust, Countrywide and Merrill deals. Today, BofA is the largest bank in the nation, touting business relationships with one of every two U.S. households.
Still, the value added from the S&L contributions can't be denied. NCNB was one of the most aggressive dealmakers with the FDIC, especially in the South and Southeast. It swooped in for lucrative deals to acquire First RepublicBank and Mcorp, among others, at what were considered bargain prices. The deals added tremendously to NCNB's bottom line, and the FDIC ended up on the hook much of the souring debt, providing years-long guarantees if not outright assumption of losses.
There are a few regional banks out there, like
, that have room to grow and are looking for deals. Others, like
, have already benefited from acquisitions made under duress.
But JPMorgan Chase is probably the sole megabank out there looking for expansion opportunities, and by and large, the healthy banks are being very selective about purchases, such as
. Many other banks are hunkered down, dealing with their own losses, or fearful of taking on acquisitions that would hurt their balance sheets. J. Mariner Kemper, one of the most conservative bank executives out there, told
he'd be interested in good deals -- that is, if any were out there. Though he scans the list of FDIC offerings often, most of the failed bank assets would increase his firm's risk ratios too much, Kemper says.
What's left is private money, but the FDIC has effectively put a chokehold on PE deals. It passed stringent requirements for capital, investment time horizons and management that run counter to the way most PE firms operate. It also damaged plans already in the works by some PE investor groups that had snapped up assets before the rules were put in place.
However, where there's a will there's a way -- at least for wealthy investors, if not private equity powerhouses. The
Wall Street Journal
reported Thursday evening that investment banks like
are raising capital for so-called "blind pools" for failed-bank investments.
Some bank executives of yesteryear -- including former
CEO William Harrison, former Wachovia CEO Bob Steele, former Hibernia CEO Herb Boydstun, and others -- have teamed up with the investment banks to seek out deals and manage the bank operations, according to the
. Their patience may provide better opportunities than counterparts who teamed up with PE groups, like John Kanas' stewardship of
and Steve Mnuchin's running OneWest, which was once part of
The new twist in the failed-bank saga is a win for respected, if forgotten, bankers who have the credentials to relive their glory years. It's also a win for wealthy private investors who want a piece of modern-day S&L vulture investing. Patience with regulators, and ample cash, are virtues in the post-crisis era.
But those who first stepped up with the funds and desire to turn around these financial flops, and the ordinary bank investors hoping for growth opportunity in the wreckage, may not see the same opportunities.
Written by Lauren Tara LaCapra in New York