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Monday, January 2, 2012 - 9:41am

Ga. Banks Still Owe Bailout Program

The federal government is working to wind down the bank-rescue called the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Three Georgia banks have repaid the government’s investment, but roughly two dozen still have not, including Synovus Financial and United Community Bank of Blairsville. The Treasury Department has been telling those banks it plans to wrap up the program soon.

Meanwhile, 2011 was a rough ride for Georgia’s banking industry. Regulators closed more banks here than anywhere else in the nation – 23 last year and 74 since 2008 – and new filings show the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation recently ordered The Citizens Bank in Nashville to shape up.

That pace could slow a bit in 2012, however.

“In an election year in 2012, there’s a lot of cognizance around what is the number of institutions we are failing,” said bank analyst Christopher Marinac, director of research at Atlanta-based FIG Partners. “They don’t want that to be necessarily a campaign speech, so I think you’re going to clearly see a little slower pace of closings in the new year, but I do think we are going to continue to see them happen.”

Some lawmakers have criticized the FDIC for closing so many banks instead of seeking new investors. But Marinac said regulators want to make sure new investment is the right kind of capital.

“They do not want to have to close a bank a second time. They don’t want to have money coming in to save a bank and then they effectively have to come back in and revisit the process. They want to have assurance that this is a one-time recapitalization of the institution,” Marinac said.

Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss and U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland want to know more about bank closures. Their bill calling for a study of the process is awaiting the president’s signature.

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