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Prudent holding company's pre-meltdown Chapter 11 saves bank

Recently, a bankruptcy filing by a Wisconsin bank holding company was held up by the New York Times’ DealBook blog as a model of prudent and, in fact, innovative management. Typically, when bank holding companies file for bankruptcy, it’s far too late to save the subsidiary banks. Holding companies generally don’t consider filing Chapter 11 until bank examiners and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation sweep in and take over their banks.

You may recall that happening to IndyMac here in California back in 2008. Losses from sub-prime lending caused a precipitous drop in the mortgage lender’s stock price and, ultimately, a run on the bank.

Management at AnchorBank’s holding company, Anchor BanCorp., took a more proactive approach. Instead of waiting for it to be clear that AnchorBank was destined to fail, the holding company filed Chapter 11. A bankruptcy judge recently approved the plan and, assuming regulators also sign off, Anchor will pay off its debts for about 20 percent of their value. Additionally, the holding company can continue operating the banks with no disruptive FDIC takeover.

According to DealBook, Anchor received more than $100 million in Troubled Asset Relief Program funds in the form of preferred stock. In Chapter 11, that preferred stock will be converted to a small equity stake worth around $6 million. The holding company also owes over $180 million to other banks, which the bankruptcy will allow Anchor to pay off for only $49 million -- or 27 percent of face value.

Most important, DealBook says, the Chapter 11 will allow Anchor to cancel its existing shares -- and then sell any proceeds of that sale remaining after the bankruptcy as new equity, which will recapitalize the holding company.

Anchor BanCorp. was able to avoid an FDIC takeover because management anticipated the potential for AnchorBank’s debt problems to get out of hand. It already had its Chapter 11 filing ready for a creditor vote and was ready to move quickly to the bankruptcy court, if necessary. The holding company’s filing shows that management was also up-front with regulators, and indicates that no objections have been raised in their discussions.

Anchor’s forward-thinking management understood that bankruptcy can be a way to save companies, not just wind them down. Could this model be applied to larger financial institutions that need billions, not millions, in recapitalization?

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