WASHINGTON — The tumult hitting two of the nation's largest investment banks will likely pass over the four depository institutions they own, observers said Monday.
Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., which filed for bankruptcy protection Monday, owns a thrift in Delaware and an industrial loan company in Salt Lake City. Both are in strong financial position, making them attractive to bidders trying to pick up Lehman's various pieces through the bankruptcy, observers said.
"They're the kind of things … somebody else is likely to buy" through the investment's bank's liquidation process, said Oliver Ireland, a partner at Morrison & Foerster LLP.
Meanwhile, Bank of America Corp.'s $50 billion deal to buy Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., which owns two depository institutions, would not bring the buyer any closer to the 10% deposit cap, a topic that comes up whenever B of A expands its deposit base.
That is because Merrill's bank subsidiaries are a thrift and a Utah industrial loan company.
The legal ceiling capping one banking company's share of the nation's deposits at 10% is not applicable to those types of institutions.
"If B of A tried to acquire another bank, they're just over 10%," but "a thrift and an ILC are not banks for the purposes of being subject to the deposit cap," said Ralph F. MacDonald 3rd, a partner at Jones Day in Atlanta. "It looks like" B of A is "in pretty good shape."
Merrill's depository institutions include Merrill Lynch Bank and Trust, a New York thrift with assets of $31 billion and deposits of $22.9 billion, and Merrill Lynch Bank USA. The latter, the nation's largest ILC, with $58 billion of assets and $52.8 billion of deposits, relies on sweep accounts from Merrill's investment clients for its deposit base.
In Lehman's case, the parent's downward spiral, which accelerated as the government's efforts to find a buyer for the investment banks stalled over the weekend, appears to have left its two subsidiaries largely unaffected.
The thrift, the $10.8 billion-asset Lehman Brothers Bank in Wilmington, has made $84 million in profit in the first two quarters this year, while Lehman Brothers Commercial Bank, a Utah ILC that specializes in commercial and industrial lending funded by brokered certificates of deposit, earned $53 million during that period.
"This isn't a bank failure. This is an investment bank failure," Mr. Ireland said.
Darryle Rude, the industrial bank supervisor for the Utah Department of Financial Institutions, said Lehman's ILC is on solid ground.
"The industrial bank is very safe and sound. It is well capitalized and liquid, and has very good earnings. While other banks have been suffering over the last several quarters, Lehman Brothers Commercial Bank actually has been performing very well," Mr. Rude said.
"We have lived through this scenario before where a parent company has filed bankruptcy, and the subsidiary bank was disposed of in an orderly fashion."
The Lehman ILC's only physical property is an office in Utah, which does not function as a full-service branch.
"It's not a retail, street-corner bank-branch operation, so you don't have local consumers worried about their deposits," Mr. Rude said.