More banks go down in the US, major lenders look to merge in Germany, a bank is taken over in Indonesia, a major Irish bank falters and more cracks appear in the oil rich Middle East with two major mortgage lenders taken over in Dubai — just another three days of activity in the tottering global banking system…

Citigroup remains dog of the week, but in a sign that things are still desperate in the US banking sector, Federal and State regulators closed and sold off two banks in California and one in Georgia on Friday night, our time.

Coming at the end of a week when Citi lost 60% of its value, the closures will result in around $US2.5 billion in losses to be covered by the the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. But it wasn’t just the US: German banks were shopping for partners, amid government aid, Irish banks were wallowing after a week of speculation that they would be bailed out, French banks lost 20% and more over the week and an Indonesian bank was taken over by the government in the first move of its kind since the Asian crisis a decade ago.

Three US banks were shut and seized by regulators at the weekend in an active day for regulators. US banking regulators seized California banks Downey Savings and Loan and PFF Bank & Trust late Friday as the housing crisis claimed two more victims from the financial crisis. Georgia’s state banking regulators closed a small bank in that state when they took control of the small Community Bank and sold it to a nearby operator. The Californian banks reopened as part of US Bancorp on Saturday. As of Sept. 30, Downey Savings had total assets of US$12.8 billion and total deposits of $US9.7 billion. PFF Bank had total assets of $US3.7 billion and total deposits of $US2.4 billion. Community Bank had $US681 million of assets and $US611 of deposits. All up the bill will be more than $US2.5 billion to regulators. With these failures, five California banks and three Georgia banks have been among the 22 forced to shut down in the current crisis. That already represents the most bank failures in the US since 1993, when 50 banks failed.

Meanwhile, weekend reports claimed Citigroup had begun talks with the US government. That was after Friday’s 20% fall. Citigroup’s market value fell to $US20.5 billion on Friday. That’s less than the $US25 billion injection that Citigroup just received from the federal government. It’s a smaller value than the Commonwealth Bank, the NAB or Westpac. US media reports said the bank met officials last week from the Federal Reserve and the US Treasury Department to discuss its options, which include an endorsement from the government and another capital injection from the Treasury. The bank’s management was also reportedly discussing selling off units or finding another bank to merge with.

In the Middle East a major development: the United Arab Emirates will take over two of Dubai’s biggest mortgage lenders to stop their failure. The move came a week after Kuwait’s Gulf Bank revealed $US1.4 billion in losses on credit derivatives and the support of the country’s central bank in a capital raising. Gulf Bank’s problems in late October had forced the Kuwaiti Government to guarantee bank deposits. Bloomberg reported this morning that Dubai’s two-largest mortgage lenders, Amlak Finance and Tamweel, “will be taken over by a government-owned bank as the global financial crisis squeezed their access to credit and slowed the regional property market. Amlak and Tamweel, whose stocks have fallen more than 80% this year, will “merge under” Abu Dhabi’s state-owned Real Estate Bank, the United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Finance said late yesterday in a statement.” The move is another step up in growing suggestions that Dubai, with its aggressive western-style business culture and huge investments in property, is not all as it seems and may need assistance from the richer Emirates in the UAE.

In Ireland more government help may need to be provided to the faltering Bank of Ireland in Dublin: the bank’s shares jumped 24% on Friday after it said it had received ‘unsolicited advances’. That left the shares up more than 15.7% over the week. The Times  (UK) reported overnight that the Irish government had agreed to take part in a €3 billion ($A5.8 billion) bailout of Bank of Ireland that will be led by private equity. The deal would be the first state aid for an Irish bank. It was a rare bright spot in a banking market that started the rush to mass guarantees of deposits and loans that spread like wildfire across the world, forcing virtually all the major banking systems of the world to be backed by their national governments. But the guarantee didn’t help the Irish banks, which remain weak, with unexplained rumours of huge losses in foreign-owned groups like Depfa Bank (owned by Hypo Real Estate). Other Irish banks remained under pressure, with Allied Irish Banks down more than 29% for the week and Anglo Irish off a similar amount as well. Until now Ireland has not bailed out or nationalised any banks, and they have not raised equity themselves, unlike some banks in Australia, the US, Japan, UK, France and Germany. Interestingly, with the UK Government having supported, guaranteed and invested in most of Britain’s biggest banks, the shares were not sold off last week. Barclays though, has a contentious meeting of shareholders tonight to approve the issue of shares to a group of investors, including some in the Middle East. The bank is doing this rather than take up the government aid.

Elsewhere in Europe , Switzerland’s UBS finished down more than 21% last week, France’s Credit Agricole, 27% and BNP Paribas shed 23% of its value. All three have been supported by national governments with cash injections or guarantees.

In Australia, Macquarie Group was a rare stand out, rising 19% after posting a smaller-than-expected drop in profit and saying earnings may not be as badly hurt as expected by the credit crunch. Other Australian banks were weak, but not as bad as those in the US or Europe.

In Indonesia , the country’s state-owned deposit guarantee agency took over Bank Century on Friday, the first such bank collapse in Indonesia since the Asian financial crisis of a decade ago.

And in Germany , Landesbank Baden-Württemberg’s (LBBW) has offered “concrete merger talks” with its Bavarian Landesbank counterpart, BayernLB, a move that could create one of the country’s three largest banks with a balance sheet of around $US1.1 trillion. According to German media reports there was a reason for the offer: LBBW said it would make a loss this year, and its mostly local and state government owners committed €5 billion to shore up the bank’s capital. LBBW said it might also seek guarantees for up to €20 billion of debt from the federal government’s bailout fund. BayernLB has already asked for €5.4 billion of new capital from the government-led bank bail-out fund.

Don’t forget to check back to Crikey’s Global Meltdown Map on our website for a running tally of fallen financial institutions:

Peter Fray

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