Which banks could dive into the FDIC's bargain bin?

Deep-pocketed private equity firms hoping the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. will make it easier for them to buy the assets of failed banks were disappointed last week. The agency signed off on preliminary guidelines that won't fundamentally change the rules -- meaning so-called "club deals," like the one put together by four PE firms for BankUnited in May, probably won't be going away any time soon.

The complexity of those rules means banks with strong finances and aspirations to expand will remain in the best position to buy the assets and deposits of banks seized by regulators, according to Frederick Cannon, chief equity strategist at investment firm Keefe Bruyette & Woods. And the big bank to watch is US Bancorp (USB), he wrote in a note to clients today.
"Of the large-cap banks, we believe that USB is in the best position to roll up a large number of failed banks through FDIC-assisted deals," Cannon wrote.

US Bancorp has already shown that it's willing to do deals with the FDIC. Last November, it picked up the deposits of a pair of California banks, PFF Bank & Trust and Downey Savings and Loan, that boasted a combined $12 billion in assets. And it assumed the deposits of First Bank of Idaho in April.

Cannon's report outlines 16 other banks that he says could expand by buying failed banks. After US Bancorp, BB&T (BBT) was the biggest bank to make the list. It too has already bought a failed bank's deposits from the FDIC, snapping up the remains of Haven Trust Bank in December.

Others include smaller regional banks like upstate New York's First Niagara Financial (FNFG), Washington's Columbia Banking System (COLB) and Indiana's German American Bancorp (GABC).

Cannon rates all the banks he sees as likely to be buyers of failed financial institutions as either "market perform" or "outperform." Their performance today was mixed, with Columbia and German American both rising more than six percent and Western Alliance Bancorporation (WAL), based in Las Vegas, falling 4.6 percent.

Meanwhile, financial shares in the S&P 500 rose 0.8 percent.
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