In recent months, I have documented on this blog the rising tide of failed banks as well as the ensuing failed bank related litigation. An August 16, 2010 report by Paul Hinton of NERA Economic Consulting entitled "Failed Bank Litigation" (here) takes a comprehensive view of the economics and causes of recent bank failures, compares the recent bank failure wave to the S&L crisis, and analyses the implications for litigation against the directors and offices of the failed institutions. The report contains a wide variety of different kind of information that readers will find interesting and useful.


Bank Failures to Date

The report begins with an analysis of the causes of the bank failures to date. The report notes that the earliest failures in the current wave derived from "losses in residential real estate and their structured finance businesses," but more recently the bank failures have been "characterized by smaller institutions that are more specialized in financing local businesses, commercial mortgages and real-estate development."


The report specifically notes that banks that went on to fail were held worse performing loans in each loan category than banks overall. These banks were also "less well prepared to deal with expected losses," since their allowance for loan losses at the beginning of the credit crisis were "not correspondingly higher," but instead were "lower than for all other banks."


Possible Future Bank Failures

Looking ahead, though the economy has improved and banks overall are showing signs of recover, the number of problem banks continues to rise and loan performance has yet to turn around. Many community banks may be burdened as a result of their issuance of trust preferred securities, the holders of which have priority rights in the event of bank failure, which could deter prospective investors. A wider concern for community banks is "the risk posed by continuing financial distress in commercial real estate markets," an issue I explored at length in a prior report here.


The report notes that one group of banks particularly at risk are "community banks with high [construction and development, or C&D] loan concentrations and the smallest allowances for loan losses compared to their level of non-performing loans." Another high-risk group of institutions are banks that are "under-provisioned and that have relatively high levels of non-performing loans."


Comparison to the S&L Crisis

Though the number of failed banks so far in the current wave is lower than the number that failed during the S&L crisis, "the losses incurred in 2009 are larger than all but one year of losses during the S&L crisis (expressed in 2010 dollars)," because the average size of banking institutions and savings institutions has increased since the time of the S&L Crisis. The average per failed bank loss in the current crisis ($303 million) is more than three times larger in 2010 dollars than for banks in the S&L crisis and were attributable to banks that were about two and a half times as big.


The factors contributing to bank failures in the current failed bank wave appear similar to the factors the FDIC identified as having caused bank failures during the S&L crisis. That is, economic conditions were "secondary to poor management and other internal problems."


Many readers will find the reports analyses of the banking regulators’ S&L crisis-related litigation track record particularly interesting. Among other things, the report documents (in Figure 14) that the FDIC pursued D&O claims with respect to about one-quarter of failed institutions. The report also shows (in Figure 15) that the FDIC’s peak recoveries lagged peak bank failures by about three years, which may be suggestive of the likely recovery track for the current bank failures.


Of particular interest is the detail (in Figure 16) regarding the FDIC’s professional liability claims recoveries during the period 1990-1995 (when most, but not all, of the FDIC’s S&L Crisis-related recoveries took place.). The chart shows that overall, excluding recoveries related to Drexel Burnham and excluding further criminal restitutions, the FDIC recovered $3.2 billion, $1.3 billion of which was from D&O claims, $1.15 billion of which was from accounting claims, and $500 million of which was from attorney malpractice claims. Another $300 million was from fidelity bond claims.


Failed Bank Litigation

The report details the FDIC’s special litigation authority under FIREEA (about which refer here), while noting that the FDIC’s special standing may not entirely preclude the claims of private litigants. Though the FDIC has to date filed only one action against former directors and officers of failed banks, all signs are that the FDIC is readying itself to bring more claims, as the report details.


Among other things, the report notes that many of the failed and troubled banks in the current wave are publicly traded, by comparison to the S&L crisis, when almost none of the failed institutions are publicly traded. As a result, there is much more investor related litigation this time around than there was during the prior crisis.


The report notes that of the roughly 240 credit crisis-related securities class action lawsuits, there were 45 against depository institutions (after excluding auction-rate securities cases). Eleven were filed against failed banks. Of the 20 banks that failed prior to 2010 and that produced the largest losses. 13 were publicly traded, of which eight have been sued in securities class action lawsuits as of the end of 2009.


The report notes that the private litigants will compete with the FDIC for D&O insurance, and while the FDIC is generally first in line to recover assets, private litigants may be able to recover against insurance assets even when the FDIC is not (for example, where the D&O policy has a regulatory exclusion that would preclude coverage for the FDIC’s claim but not for the investors’ claims).


Though there is already extensive litigation and more seems likely to come, all claimants, including even the FDIC, will face a basic causation problem; as the report concludes, "distinguishing the effects of underwriting practices from the effects of a deteriorating economy will be one of the important elements of this litigation." These cases "will require careful case-by-case economic analysis."



Overall, this report is useful and informative. Readers will undoubtedly find the report’s distillation of important background information and analysis in a single source to be particularly helpful.


Many D&O insurance professionals in particular will find this report to be helpful, particularly those involved with either the placement of D&O insurance for banking institutions or those involved in claims arising under those policies. Underwriters and brokers will find the report’s analysis of the causes of bank failures and the likely causes of future failures informative. Those involved in claims and claims administration will find the aggregate date from the S&L crisis claims particularly useful.


Special thanks to the report’s author, Paul Hinton, for providing me with a copy of the report. I would also like to thank Paul for his numerous citations to this blog in his report.