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FDIC needs infusion

Agency weighs steps to shore up fund

Daniel Wagner Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is weighing several costly – and never-before-used – options as it struggles to shore up the dwindling fund that insures bank deposits.

The agency is considering borrowing billions from healthy banks. Alternatively, it may impose a special fee on the banking industry.

Each option carries risk: Drawing money from healthy banks would take dollars out of the private sector, making that money unavailable for investment in the weak economy. But charging the whole industry a fee to replenish the fund could push weaker banks toward failure.

A third option – borrowing from the Treasury – is politically unpalatable, since it would resemble another taxpayer-financed bailout.

A fourth option would be to have banks pay their regular insurance premiums early. But this idea wouldn’t solve the fund’s long-term cash needs.

“The bottom line is, there’s no good solution,” said Jaret Seiberg, an analyst with the research firm Concept Capital. “This is a fight over which option is least bad.”

The FDIC is expected to propose a solution, possibly combining two or more of the options, at a board meeting next week.

Officials have approached big, healthy banks about making loans to the agency, said two industry officials familiar with the conversations, who requested anonymity because the plans are still evolving. Doing so would help the agency avoid tapping a $100 billion credit line with the Treasury – something FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair is reluctant to do.

But taking billions from large, healthy banks would remove that money from the private sector and prevent it from being invested.

That could slow an economic recovery, analysts said.

Industry and government officials said Tuesday that plan was still on the table. But FDIC spokesman Andrew Gray downplayed its likelihood, saying, “It’s an option, but it’s not being given serious consideration.”

In a letter Monday to Bair, American Bankers Association CEO Ed Yingling endorsed borrowing from the banks or collecting regular premiums early as alternatives to charging another fee.

Ninety-four banks have failed so far this year. Hundreds more are expected to fall in coming years largely because of souring loans for commercial real estate.

The FDIC’s fund has slipped to 0.22 percent of insured deposits, below a congressionally mandated minimum of 1.15 percent.

The $10.4 billion in the fund at the end of June is down from $13 billion at the end of March, and $45.2 billion in the second quarter of 2008.

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