Saturday, March 7, 2009

Freedom Bank of Georgia Seized, 17th U.S. Failure This Year

Freedom Bank of Georgia was seized by regulators, the 17th bank closed this year, as the recession persists and a jump in unemployment pushed more borrowers behind on home loan payments.

Freedom Bank, in Commerce, Georgia, with $173 million in assets and $161 million in deposits, was shut by the state’s Department of Banking and Finance and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was named receiver. Northeast Georgia Bank of Lavonia, Georgia, will assume deposits, the FDIC said.

“Customers of both banks should continue to use their existing branches until Northeast Georgia Bank can fully integrate the deposit records of Freedom Bank of Georgia,” the FDIC said.

The U.S. economy is in the second year of a recession caused partly by a collapse of the housing market and losses in the financial system linked to mortgage securities. The U.S. unemployment rate reached 8.1 percent, the highest level in more than a quarter century, and employers shed 650,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said.

Closely held Northeast Georgia Bank will buy about $167 million in assets at a discount of $13.7 million and the bank agreed to share with the FDIC in any losses on about $96.5 million in assets. The FDIC estimates the transaction will cost the deposit insurance fund, supported by fees on insured banks, about $36.2 million.

Bank Losses

FDIC-insured banks lost $26.2 billion in the fourth quarter, the first loss for a three-month period since 1990. U.S. banks and other financial companies have reported about $800 billion in writedowns and credit losses since 2007 in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

“There is no question that this is one of the most difficult periods we have encountered during the FDIC’s 75 years of operation,” FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair said at a news conference on Feb. 26 after the industry report was released.

The FDIC predicted that bank failures will cost the fund $65 billion through 2013, up from the $40 billion estimated in October. The fund, drained by 25 bank shutdowns last year, dropped 45 percent to $18.9 billion in the fourth quarter from $34.6 billion in the preceding three-month period.

The Washington-based agency classified 252 banks as “problem” in the fourth quarter, a 47 percent jump from the third quarter. It doesn’t name the “problem” banks.

New FDIC Fee

The FDIC approved a one-time emergency fee of 20 cents per $100 of insured deposits on banks to bolster the insurance fund at a board meeting on Feb 27. Bair wrote a letter to Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, saying she may cut the new levy if lawmakers expand the amount of credit the agency can draw from the Treasury Department.

Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, introduced a bill to permanently raise the FDIC’s borrowing authority from Treasury to $100 billion and temporarily increase it to $500 billion through Dec. 31, 2010. The House of Representatives this week passed a measure that would triple the FDIC’s credit line to $100 billion and permanently raise the deposit-insurance limit to $250,000.

The FDIC prompted a banking industry outcry over the new assessment. Camden Fine, president of the Independent Community Bankers of America, said on March 3 he’s received more than 1,000 messages from executives complaining that the one-time fee could significantly reduce 2009 earnings.