WASHINGTON — Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair is the most powerful woman in the country, according to Forbes magazine.
The honor is atypical for a regulator, but with the housing market in turmoil, and the FDIC facing the prospect of more bank failures, Ms. Bair ranked second on the magazine's list of the world's most powerful women. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany topped the list.
Ms. Bair, who debuted on the list, beat out Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (ranked seventh), Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (28th), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (35th), Oprah Winfrey (36th), Queen Elizabeth II (58th), Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (72nd), and seven heads of state.
Forbes, which published the rankings late Wednesday, considered "public profile" and financial influence — measured in part by "the amount of money the woman controls" — in assembling the list.
Ms. Bair, a Republican whose name was floated this week as a possible Treasury secretary in an a future administration, controls the FDIC's large Deposit Insurance Fund. (However, that fund shrank 14% last quarter, to $45.2 billion.)
But her high profile is arguably more a result of the pivotal role in which her agency now finds itself. More than a year ago she began warning of the consequences of mass foreclosures, and she urged the industry to begin making loan modifications. Now the FDIC is running IndyMac Bank, which failed July 11, and is preparing for more collapses.
"Bair's domain is the last stop for capital-starved banks (and their insured customers) before going under," the magazine said. "As banks continue to fail, Bair must continue to show the fortitude that has helped her lead an institution that is suddenly an actor in this global drama."
Ms. Bair said in a statement that it was "an honor to be included among such a distinguished and accomplished group" on the list.
"The current economic environment provides many challenges, but I feel fortunate to be in a position to help guide an agency with such a proud tradition," she said.
Bankers on the Forbes list included Gail Kelly, the chief executive and managing director of Australia's Westpac Banking Corp. (ranked 11th); Ellen Alemany, the CEO of Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC's RBS Americas and Citizens Financial Group Inc. (26th); Amy Woods Brinkley, Bank of America Corp.'s global risk executive (48th); Ana Patricia Botin, the chairman of Spain's Banco Espanol de Credito SA (51st); Sallie Krawcheck, the chairman and CEO of Citigroup Inc.'s wealth management division (64th); and Jing Ulrich, the chairman and managing director of JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s China equities business (95th).