Anticipating a surge in troubled financial institutions, federal regulators will increase by 60 percent the number of workers who handle bank failures.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. wants to add 140 workers to bring staff levels to 360 workers in the division that handles bank failures, John Bovenzi, the agency's chief operating officer, said Tuesday.
"We want to make sure that we're prepared," Bovenzi said, adding that most of the hires will be temporary and based in Dallas.
There have been five bank failures since February 2007 following an uneventful more than two-year stretch. The last time the agency was hit hard with failures was during the 1990-1991 recession, when 502 banks failed in three years.
Analysts see casualties rising, but don't believe they will reach early-1990s levels.
Gerard Cassidy, managing director of bank equity research at RBC Capital Markets, projects 150 bank failures over the next three years, with the highest concentration coming from states such as California and Florida where an overheated real estate market is in a fast freeze.
To cushion against losses from bad loans, banks likely will raise additional capital and cut dividends this year, said Tony Davis, a senior bank analyst with Stifel Nicolaus & Co. Inc. However, he said, "we're not looking at a massive number of bank failures."
The FDIC provides insurance for deposits up to $100,000. While depositors typically have quick access to their bank accounts on the next business day after a bank closure, winding down a failed bank's operations can take years to finish. That process can include selling off real estate, investments and dealing with lawsuits.
There are 76 banks on the FDIC's "problem institutions" list — which would equate to about 10 expected bank failures this year, though FDIC officials declined to make projections. Historically, about six banks fail per year on average, FDIC officials said.
Since 1981, total failures per year averaged about 13 percent of the number of institutions that started the year on the agency's list of banks with weak financial conditions.
There have been two failures in 2008 — both of which were small Missouri-based banks. By far the largest recent failure was the September 2007 shutdown of Georgia-based NetBank Inc., an online bank with $2.5 billion in assets. NetBank's insured deposits — representing more than 100,000 customers — were assumed by ING Bank, part of Dutch financial giant ING Groep NV.
The FDIC's chairman, Sheila Bair, has said that banks that were cautious about their lending should be able to weather the economic downturn, but cautioned that those that weren't so careful won't be so lucky. Analysts warn of lurking weaknesses, especially in smaller banks with a high concentration of real estate construction loans.
FDIC officials said last month they planned to bring back about 25 retirees to the agency and noted those workers will train new hires. Over the next five years, about 50 percent of employees with experience in bank failures, especially those who were at the agency during the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s, will be eligible for retirement, officials added.