The list of regional banks taking advantage of government investments continues to grow, but so far there are some notable absentees.
Analysts say that, if they have failed to gain entry to the Treasury Department's Capital Purchase Program, it could write the epitaph for lenders such as Downey Financial Corp., BankUnited Financial Corp., and Vineyard National Bancorp that have conceded they need capital infusions to maintain themselves as stand-alone companies.
"I think a company in their situation has to look at a sale or rais[ing] capital outside" the government program, "and in my opinion, getting capital doesn't seem likely right now," Matthew Kelley, an analyst at Sterne, Agee & Leach Inc., said in an interview Tuesday.
Mr. Kelley and others said that if Downey, BankUnited, and Vineyard do not pursue outright sales, they might have to sell assets at fire-sale prices. No other clear option remains, given that each has searched unsuccessfully for new private capital.
Analysts pointed to the fate of National City Corp., which was forced into a deal with PNC Financial Services Group Inc. after the Treasury reportedly deemed the Cleveland banking company too burdened by mortgage issues to work its way back to profitability, despite a $7 billion private-equity infusion in April.
They said that the government may similarly view Downey, BankUnited, and Vineyard as mired too deep in bad loans to warrant help.
It was unclear whether these companies have applied for capital under the program. Downey and BankUnited declined to comment for this story, and Vineyard did not respond to a request for comment. The Treasury did not return phone calls. Though companies have until Nov. 14 to apply to the program, roughly 20 regional banks announced plans this week to participate.
Both Downey in Newport Beach, Calif., and BankUnited in Coral Gables, Fla., were badly wounded by soured option adjustable-rate mortgages after gambling heavily on them in the nation's two hardest-hit housing markets. "I think the problems for each require massive amounts of capital to overcome, amounts that the [government's] program probably wouldn't try to cover," said Mr. Kelley. "I think what we've seen so far is that the [Treasury] prefers to help those that could probably also raise capital on their own."
This preference could also lead to the exclusion of Vineyard. The $2.4 billion-asset Corona, Calif., company announced last month that it planned to raise $250 million in a private placement of common stock and convertible senior secured notes. Its chief executive, Glen C. Terry, said in an interview at the time that he hoped to raise the capital by the middle of this month.
But the company, which lost $72 million in the first half of 2008 on bad construction loans, has yet to announce whether it has found investors, and Vineyard did not respond to an interview request. Mr. Terry said last month that, if Vineyard failed to raise capital, it would "consider all other options," with a sale the most likely. At the end of June, Vineyard Bank's Tier 1 capital ratio was 8.76%. But the holding company, pummeled by mortgage-related losses, had a Tier 1 ratio of 1.52%, well below regulatory minimums.
"A lot depends on whether the people running the [Treasury] program think Vineyard can realistically" work off its bad loans if it gets extra capital, Karen Dorway, the president of the financial research firm BauerFinancial Inc., said in an interview Wednesday. The Treasury "would have access to the information to make that determination," she said.
Downey held out hope last week when it indicated it would seek government aid. It started in July to search for a capital infusion but has not announced receiving one.
BankUnited has not indicated its plans relative to the Capital Purchase Plan, but Ramiro A. Ortiz, the company's president and chief operating officer and, as of last week, its CEO, has said he intends to keep the company independent. "We will move BankUnited steadily ahead as a strong, independent company," he said in a press release.
To be sure, analysts say, both Downey and BankUnited have strengths that may, ultimately, sneak them under the bailout umbrella.
Downey has 170 branches in Southern California, a coveted market, and BankUnited is the largest bank based in Florida, a state expected by many to resume growth once the economy improves.
In a research report Tuesday, analysts at KBW Inc.'s Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. said both Downey and BankUnited might get consideration. They estimated that Downey could get $218 million under the capital program and BankUnited $250 million.
However, given the severity of their loan problems and the state of housing markets in Florida and California, it is difficult to see how either Downey or BankUnited's woes would ease any time soon, even with an infusion of government cash, analysts said.
The $14.2 billion-asset BankUnited, which lost $167 million in the first six months of this year, held $7.1 billion of option ARMs at the end of its fiscal third quarter, which ended June 30. At midyear, the company said option ARMs accounted for 68% of total residential loan balances and 57.5% of its total loan balances. Of the $7.1 billion in option ARM balances, $6.5 billion had negative amortization of $376 million, or 5.3% of the portfolio.
After it announced in June it would seek to raise $400 million of capital, but apparently failed to lure investors, Alfred R. Camner retired as chairman and chief executive officer, signaling to analysts that the company would welcome a buyer. Under a cease-and-desist order from federal regulators, BankUnited has until Dec. 31 to raise capital.
Theodore Kovaleff, an analyst at Granta Capital Group, said in an interview Monday that BB&T Corp. in Winston-Salem, N.C., has eyed BankUnited in the past, and might again if a deal could be done on the cheap. BB&T declined to comment.
Meanwhile, the $12.8 billion-asset Downey, which posted an $81 million third-quarter loss, its fifth-straight quarterly deficit, said $5.7 billion of its assets were option ARMs at Sept. 30. In its third-quarter earnings report last week, Downey said its bad loans rose tenfold from a year earlier, to $100 million, and its nonperforming assets stood at 15.7% of total assets. Deposits dropped 10% from a year earlier, to $9.6 billion. Analysts said that, if it comes down to selling its retail bank cheaply, Downey, because of its location, could find a buyer — either a stronger regional bank or perhaps a foreign bank looking to enter the West Coast market.
"A strong retail network is always a plus, so I wouldn't rule out [Downey's] finding a buyer," Ms. Dorway said. "But it is not nearly as attractive as it would be if it didn't have such a high level of nonperforming assets."