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Bert Caldwell: Local bank knows the drill

Sun., Aug. 29, 2010, midnight

AmericanWest seeks recapitalization

AmericanWest Bancorporation Chief Executive Officer Pat Rusnak took heart last week from Sterling Financial Corp.’s successful effort to raise additional capital.

Like Sterling, AmericanWest was ordered by regulators to reinforce its capital base, although the May 2009 notice did not fix the amount of money to be raised. Rusnak said the bank, headquartered at 41 W. Riverside Ave., needs about $125 million.

Also like Sterling, AmericanWest has a sizable, 58-branch footprint that extends from Spokane and Eastern Washington through Idaho to southern Utah. Assets as of June 30 were $1.5 billion.

Rusnak said that with attractive, multistate bank franchises becoming a scarce commodity, especially in a desirable market like the Northwest, talks with would-be investors have become more urgent.

Groups that took advantage of easy terms from a Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. eager to dispose of seized banks a year ago now find themselves bidding for institutions taken over by regulators, and paying a premium for the deposits they purchase.

One recent auction for a San Francisco Bay-area bank attracted multiple bidders, he said.

Rusnak said AmericanWest has used the last year to aggressively address its problem loans while maintaining deposits and liquidity. The FDIC, Washington Department of Financial Institutions, and other overseers have been kept constantly informed on the bank’s progress, he said.

But publicly, AmericanWest has said little about its capital drive.

Rusnak demurred when asked if a deal might be announced before the end of the year, but said time has become an AmericanWest ally as executives talk to investors.

“They clearly understand they do not have an unlimited amount of time,” he said. “I have more going on today than I have at any time in the past year.”

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