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Federal Court Issues Significant Loan Participation Decision

On February 9, 2010, a federal district court in Macon, Georgia issued a noteworthy decision in a dispute over a participation agreement finding the lead bank to have breached the agreement and ordering the lead bank to repurchase an interest from a participating bank.

The case of Sun American Bank v. Fairfield Financial Services, Inc. involved a claim by Sun American that Fairfield Financial had breached its obligations under a loan participation agreement involving a condominium project in north Florida.  Sun American contended that Fairfield Financial had breached the agreement by failing to disclose to participants in a timely manner the downgrades in its credit relationship with the borrower and of circumstances that were likely to have a material, adverse effect on the loan.  Sun American sought to compel Fairfield Financial to repurchase its interest in the loan as a remedy for the breach.

Judge Ashley Royal, of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, granted summary judgment in favor of Sun American finding that Fairfield Financial had failed to meet its disclosure obligations to the participants.  Judge Royal noted that the disclosure requirement with respect to credit downgrades was particularly important given that the lead bank possessed substantial information regarding the borrower’s affairs that was not available to Sun American as a participant bank.

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Georgia Amends Legal Lending Limit Statute

On February 11, 2010, the Governor signed House Bill 926 (HB 926), an amendment to the Georgia legal lending limit statute, to permit banks to renew maturing loans without violating the legal lending limit statute. The Georgia legal lending statute is found at Ga. Code Ann.§ 7-1 -285.  The statute is supplemented by the rules adopted by the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance, specifically Rule 80-1-5-.01(12).  The amendment was proposed as a solution to a problem which many banks are currently facing due to a reduction in their capital base. At issue is the language in the Rule which states that a bank may not renew a loan which although proper when made would now no longer meet the legal lending limit requirement.

“(12)  Where the “statutory capital base” as defined in Section 7-1-4(35) is reduced by operating losses, loan losses, or for other reasons, existing debt which was in conformity with the legal limitations at the time it originated shall not be construed to be non-conforming with new legal limitations resulting from the reduced statutory capital base; provided, however, in the absence of agreements to the contrary and originating at the time such debt originated regarding repayment programs for the debt in question, any extension, renewal, rollover or the like of the existing debt shall be determined to be a new loan and must conform to the new, lower lending limitations.” (emphasis added)

Due to a shrinkage in capital many banks are faced with loans which are maturing but that the regulations will not allow to be renewed.  As a practical matter these loans are not subject to being repaid immediately due to lack of liquidity by borrowers nor are there any other financial institutions willing to take over the credits. Banks are forced to enter into forbearance type arrangements which does not result in the loan being renewed and must carry the loan on their books as past due.

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Regulators Issue Statement on Lending to Creditworthy Small Businesses

On February 5, 2010, the federal banking regulators and the Conference of State Bank Supervisors issued an Interagency Statement on the Credit Needs of Creditworthy Small Business Borrowers.  The Statement builds upon principles set forth in the October 2009 Policy Statement on Prudent Commercial Real Estate Loan Workouts.  After noting the overall decline in loans to small businesses and the reasons for that decline the regulators suggested that lenders may have become overly cautious with respect to small business lending.  They encourage lenders to engage in prudent small business lending and that that examiners will not criticize lenders for working in prudent and constructive manner with small businesses.

The decline in small business lending has many reasons, not the least of which is that loan demand is actually down.  Lenders are also naturally cautious of lending to those businesses that are reliant solely on cash flow that has slowed due to the slowdown in consumer spending and the decline ion the personal wealth of the owners of the businesses.  Despite the assertions to the contrary by the regulators, lenders are concerned that there is a disconnect between statements from Washington, DC and what actually happens in the field when examiners are onsite at financial institutions.  Our experience seems to show that local federal regulators do not see any upside in being flexible when faced with making decisions about how to rate credits.  Lenders are therefore naturally reluctant to maker decisions based on guidance until they see it actually implemented on the ground.

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Federal Bank Regulators Release New Guidance for Management of Interest Rate Risk

On January 7, 2010, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC), a collection of federal regulators of financial institutions, issued an advisory on interest rate risk management. This advisory, which was issued as part of an effort to supplement and clarify existing interest rate risk (IRR) guidance provided by individual federal regulators, indicates that federal regulators will have increased expectations during future examinations of a financial institution’s management, modeling, stress testing and documentation of IRR.

In light of the current economic environment in which financial institutions are experiencing downward pressure on capital and earnings, FFIEC has grown concerned with the potential IRR associated with institutions funding longer-term assets with shorter-term liabilities in order to generate earnings. As a result, as part of future federal examinations, IRR assumed by a financial institution will be evaluated relative to the institution’s capital and earnings levels, and management will be evaluated on its efforts to identify, measure, control and document the institution’s IRR.

In particular, FFIEC reiterates its previous position that the ultimate responsibility for the financial institution’s IRR rests with its board of directors; as a result, the board of directors or a specially designated asset/liability committee “should oversee the establishment, approval, implementation, and annual review of IRR management strategies, policies, procedures, and limits.” The board of directors is expected to receive and review regular reports that allow them to accurately assess the IRR sensitivity of the institution to an increasing rate environment and to the important assumptions that underlie management-proposed IRR and liquidity projections. Further, the board of directors is directed to approve comprehensive written policies and procedures in place to monitor and manage IRR continuously. Although the advisory indicates that these processes and systems “should be commensurate with the size and complexity of the institution,” FFIEC indicates that “well-managed institutions” possess IRR management policies that include specific targets under a variety of short and long term scenarios.

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FDIC Takes Dim View on Raising Capital via Minority Interests in Real Estate Subsidiaries

A number of banks have recently been examining the possibility of raising capital through the sale of a minority interest in a subsidiary set up to hold bank owned real estate such as bank headquarters and branches.

Part 325 of the FDIC Rules and Regulations indicates that Tier 1 Capital includes minority interests in equity capital accounts of those subsidiaries that have been consolidated for the purpose of computing regulatory capital, (except that minority interests which fail to provide meaningful capital support are excluded from the definition).   Stock held by minority shareholders in a bank controlled subsidiary whose assets are consolidated with those of the bank are not generally recognized as equity capital under GAAP, but the bank regulatory agencies have in the past counted it as regulatory capital.

We have been informed by the FDIC that the current regulatory view of such transactions is not favorable.   Their position is that subsidiaries typically are not normally formed for the sole intent of raising capital, and that minority interests usually arise when a bank acquires a pre-existing subsidiary.   From a corporate perspective, the FDIC is currently taking the position it will not be allowing banks to transfer assets to a subsidiary for the sole intent of raising temporary capital, particularly if the investors have a preferred claim or return on such assets.   Accordingly, institutions looking to raise capital are unlikely to find any relief by selling interests in the bank’s existing owned real estate.

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Summary of Federal Reserve Proposed Compensation Guidance

On October 22, 2009, the Federal Register published proposed guidance from the Federal Reserve for structuring incentive compensation arrangements at banking organizations.

There are several notable aspects of the proposed guidance. First, the Federal Reserve expects all banking organizations, not just entities participating in the Troubled Asset Relief Program, to review their incentive compensation arrangements in light of the guidance. Second, the guidance sets forth principles that banking organizations should follow and implement as part of their incentive compensation arrangements, but does not establish pay caps or other specific formulas for calculating incentive compensation. Third, the principles in the guidance apply to incentive compensation arrangements for executives, employees, and groups of employees who may expose the organization to material amounts of risk. They are not limited to compensation arrangements for executive officers or other highly compensated employees.

Principles of a Sound Incentive Compensation System

The Federal Reserve guidance is centered on three (3) main principles that should be followed when designing a sound incentive compensation system.

Principle #1: Balanced Risk-Taking Incentives

  • Incentive compensation arrangements should account for risks associated with employee’s activities when developing incentive compensation arrangements.

An incentive compensation arrangement should balance the risk and the reward associated with activities undertaken by the employee. This balance is achieved when incentive compensation paid to an employee accounts for the risks and the financial benefits associated with the employee’s activities. This may require banking organizations to reduce the amount of incentive compensation payable to an employee to account for the risks.

Example: Two employees generate the same amount of short-term profit, but the activities of one employee result in greater risk to the banking organization. Under a balanced incentive compensation arrangement, the employee whose activities result in a greater risk to the banking organization should receive less than the employee whose activities did not result in a greater risk to the banking organization.

  • Employees should understand how risk and risk outcomes are accounted for in their incentive compensation arrangements.

Banking organizations should communicate clearly to employees how an incentive compensation arrangement will account for risk and risk outcomes. The communication should include examples and should be tailored to the employees.

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Process for Requesting Determination of “High-Rate Area”

On December 4, 2009, the FDIC published Financial Institution Letter FIL-69-2009, which outlines the process for requesting a “high-rate area” determination by the FDIC to exempt the institution from compliance with the national rate caps.  As we’ve previously discussed, financial institutions that are less than well capitalized will be barred from paying in excess of 75 basis points above the national rate unless the institution is able to persuade the FDIC that the institution’s local market rate is above the national rate.  The new guidance confirms our previous understanding of the process the FDIC will use in approving high-rate areas, and provides additional clarify.

Less than well-capitalized institutions that operate in market areas where rates paid on deposits are higher than the “national rate” can request a “high-rate area” determination from the FDIC by sending a letter to the applicable FDIC regional office.  The letter must identify the market area(s) in which the institution is operating.  The FDIC appears willing to defer to the institution to identify its relevant market area, so long as it is a geographic area and does not arbitrarily exclude FDIC-insured institutions and branches operating in that geographic area.

The FDIC will use its own standardized data (average rates by state, metropolitan statistical area and micropolitan statistical area) to determine whether the institution is in a high-rate area.  While the FDIC will not consider any specific supporting data offered by the institution, institutions may still want to calculate the expected market rate for various markets in determining whether to identify a larger or small relevant market area.  The FDIC has specified that market areas may not consist only of a subset of banks with similar characteristics (such as asset size or retail focus) and cannot exclude branches of large institutions.

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Updated Guidance on Seeking a “High-Rate Area” Determination

The FDIC has not yet formally published the anticipated guidance on how an institution can seek a “high-rate area” determination under the national interest rate restrictions for less than well-capitalized banks.  However, based on conversations with FDIC officials, we understand that the FDIC is accepting requests that a bank be determined to be in a “high-rate area.”

We understand that the request should include a self-identification of the bank’s relevant market area.  The FDIC will not set specified market areas, but rather will consider the market rate identified by the institution.  Institutions are also encouraged to identify competing credit unions  if the bank believes the credit union is relevant to deposit pricing in the market.

The request does not have to include analysis of the rates being paid in the market, as the FDIC will use its own data to calculate the average rate paid in the Bank’s identified market area.  The FDIC will calculate the average rates paid in four standard types of deposit categories.  If the market rate exceeds the national rate by at least 10% in three of the four categories, the FDIC will designate the Bank’s market area as a “high-rate area.”

We expect official guidance from the FDIC to be released shortly.

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Updated Guidance on Prepaid Assessment Exemptions

Standards for Prepaid Assessment Exemptions

We understand that the FDIC has decided to exempt the following categories of financial institutions from the requirement to prepay three years of deposit assessments:

  • Institutions with a CAMELS rating of 4 or 5; and
  • Institutions that are less than well-capitalized.

Institutions falling in either of these categories should have already received an electronic letter from the FDIC confirming that they have been exempted from the prepayment of deposit assessments.

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FDIC Finalizes Prepaid Assessments Rule

On November 12, 2009, the FDIC adopted its final rule regarding prepaid assessments.  The final rule is largely unchanged from the FDIC’s initial proposal; the most significant change is that the FDIC will now refund any unused assessments after collection of the amount due on June 30, 2013, as opposed to December 30, 2014.

Effect

As noted by the FDIC, the prepayment of FDIC assessments primarily impacts liquidity – both of the FDIC Deposit Insurance Fund and the banks.  As the prepaid assessments merely represent the prepayment of future expense, they do not affect a Bank’s capital (the prepaid asset will have a risk-weighting of 0%) or tax obligations.

Given the higher FDIC assessments generally, and the elevated assessment rates for troubled banks, the prepayment of FDIC assessments could represent a significant cash outlay.  The FDIC’s online assessment rate calculator includes a prepayment tab to help banks estimate their payments

Exemptions

The final rule provides that the FDIC, after consultation with the institution’s primary federal regulator, may exempt any institution from the prepayment requirement if it determines, in its sole discretion, that the prepayment “would adversely affect the safety and soundness of the institution.”  The FDIC is required to provide notice to such institutions by Monday, November 23, 2009 if it has exempted the institution.  We are aware that the FDIC started mailing exemption letters on November 12th.

The FDIC has not indicated the standards it will apply for exemptions.  Based on the exemptions we’ve seen so far, it appears that all institutions subject to a formal enforcement action may be exempted.

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