In what is the largest number of banks closed on a single day in years, this past Friday night the FDIC seized nine related lending institutions. The nine banks, based in California, Illinois, Texas and Arizona, had been owned by FBOP Corp., a privately held Illinois-based bank holding company. U.S. Bancorp agreed to assume all of the combined banks assets of $19.4 billion and deposits of $15.4 billion.


The latest round of closures brings the 2009 YTD total number of bank closures to 115, already the highest annual total since 1992, when 181 lending institutions failed during the S&L crisis. 31 banks failed just in September and October 2009 alone, more than the 25 banks that failed during all of 2008. Indeed, the FDIC has closed 16 banks just in the last two weeks. The FDIC’s complete list of failed banks can be found here.


Though certain states have seen higher numbers of bank failures this year, the current banking woes are not contained to just one state or region. The failed banks are quite dispersed geographically. 31 different states have had at least one bank closed this year. The states with the highest numbers of bank failures are Illinois (20), Georgia (19), California (13), Texas (5) and Minnesota (5). The Wall Street Journal has a nifty interactive map of the U.S. showing the location of the bank failures, with scaled markers indicated the relative size of each failed bank.


One of the banks closed this past Friday night was California National Bank. With assets of $7.8 billion and $6.2 billion in deposits, CNB is the fourth largest bank to fail this year, according to the Los Angeles Times (here).


The FBOP banks had their share of troubled loans, but the collapse of FBOP’s banks was, according to the Chicago Tribune (here), the result of "an abrupt reversal of fortune last year when the government takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac exposed the holding company’s large concentration of Fannie and Freddie preferred stock." According to the Los Angeles Times article linked above, the holding company had owned $855 million in preferred Fannie and Freddie shares that became worthless when the government placed the companies in receivership in September 2008.


U.S. Bankcorp’s acquisition of the nine banks’ deposits and assets seems to be a pretty sweet deal. U.S. Bancorp acquired the assets under a loan-sharing plan with the FDIC, which will absorb 80% of the first $3.5 billion in losses and 95 percent of any additional losses.


The swelling numbers of failed banks is certainly worrisome, particularly as the pace of bank closures seems to have quickened recently. This year’s aggregate numbers are starting to rival those for the later years of the S&L crisis.


There are, however, important differences between the current circumstances and the earlier era. The first is the geographic dispersion of the bank failures. During the S&L crisis, many of the failed institutions initially were concentrated in the southeastern part of the country, although as the bank crisis evolved, the bank closures moved up the coast to the northeastern states. By and large, the rest of the country experienced relatively few bank failures.


Another significant difference is the cause of many of the current bank failures. During the S&L crisis, bad loans caused most of the bank failures. Bad loans are clearly a significant factor in many of the current closures as well. But a significant contributing cause of many of the current closures is the presence of troubled assets in the failed banks’ investment portfolios. FBOP’s problems from its soured investments in Fannie and Freddie represent one example where troubled investment assets triggered a bank closure. Similarly, as discussed at length here and here, some banks that have failed this year were weighed down by their investment in other banks’ trust preferred securities.


Another difference is that this time around – at least so far – there does not seem to have been the same surge of FDIC-led failed bank litigation. Of course, it remains to be seen whether the FDIC will once again unleash a wave lawsuits against the former directors and officers of the failed institutions. There has been a certain amount of investor driven involving banks that have failed (refer for example here), but so far at least the FDIC has not been prominently pursuing litigation.


The one thing that seems for certain is that, particularly in light of the recent acceleration of the pace of bank closures, the number of failed banks seems likely to grow as this year ends and we head into next year.