James Lockhart, vice chairman of WL Ross & Co., said he is seeing "significant desire" for private-equity capital from small and midsize banks that did not get federal aid.

His buyout shop has held meetings with numerous lenders that turned down or did not qualify for federal aid but now need capital, Lockhart said at a SourceMedia conference in New York.

The New York investment firm was in a group of investors that bought BankUnited Financial Corp. in Coral Gables, Fla., this year.

Lockhart, a former director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, said private equity can play a large role in the financial world's recovery by buying other troubled companies of BankUnited's size or purchasing assets of failed institutions at discount prices.

Regulators are starting to warm to private-equity investors, he said, realizing that they are interested in building healthy companies that they can later sell or take public. But some remain wary of private-equity shops as vulture investors, he said.

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