Private-equity groups that invested some $900 million in BankUnited Inc. less than three years ago may now be ready to cash out.

Multiple news sources reported Friday that the Miami Lakes, Fla., company headed by former North Fork Bank Chief Executive John A. Kanas has hired Goldman Sachs Inc. to help it find a buyer.

Neither Kanas nor a Goldman representative would comment when contacted by American Banker late Friday, and some observers speculated that a sale seemed unlikely when BankUnited is still building out its franchise.

The $11 billion-asset company opened a dozen branches in Florida last quarter and is expanding into New York with a deal to acquire Herald National Bank. Flush with capital from an initial public offering in which it raised $783 million a year ago, the company has made no secret of its intention to continue growing through acquisitions and de novo branching.

"This is a management team and a shareholder group that has big plans to do bigger things and has the capabilities to carry them out," said Chip MacDonald, a partner at the law firm Jones Day in Atlanta. "Rumors are always fun, but …Kanas has such a strong history of success in building banks. They have a lot of opportunities."

Brady Gailey, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., said he, too, was surprised by the rumors, considering BankUnited's ambitions. That said, he speculated that BankUnited would likely consider selling itself if it could not find an acquisition target that would meet its internal targets for return on investment.

Gailey estimated that BankUnited could fetch just under $30 a share in a sale, which would work out to around $2.9 billion.

Potential buyers could include PNC Financial Services Group Inc., BB&T Corp and Toronto-Dominion's TD Bank, Gailey said. PNC and TD have been bulking considerably in Florida of late, and BB&T recently announced that it is buying BankUnited's longtime rival BankAtlantic Bank.

BankUnited's sale, if executed, would complete one of the true rags-to-riches stories of the financial crisis. Burned by steep losses on option-arm mortgages, BankUnited failed in May 2009. Private-equity heavyweights Carlyle Group LP, Blackstone Group LP and Centerbridge Partners LP and Wilbur Ross' W.L. Ross & Co. banded together to back a new venture that would acquire the assets, deposits and the BankUnited name from the FDIC. Though the reincarnated company inherited scores of problem loans, most are covered by loss-sharing agreements with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

In heavy trading Friday, BankUnited shares rose nearly 6% after news of a potential sale was reported by Bloomberg Television, to close at $24.75.

The loss-sharing agreement with the FDIC would not appear to be an impediment to a sale because loss-sharing can be transferred to a buyer with the FDIC's approval. At Sept. 30, the company had an FDIC indemnification asset — basically the amount of money it can expect to collect from the FDIC over time through the loss-share agreement — of $2.1 billion.

"They wouldn't do anything to screw it up and invalidate the loss share agreement. If they wanted to sell, they would be working with the FDIC on it," said J. Brennan Ryan, an attorney at Nelson Mullins in Atlanta.

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