As home prices continue to decline and loan defaults mount, federal regulators are bracing for dozens of American banks to fail over the next year.
But after a large mortgage lender in California collapsed late Friday, Wall Street analysts began posing two crucial questions: Just how many banks might falter? And, more urgently, which one could be next?
The nation's banks are in far less danger than they were in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when more than 1,000 federally insured institutions went under during the savings-and-loan crisis. The debacle, the greatest collapse of American financial institutions since the Depression, prompted a government bailout that cost taxpayers about $125 billion.
But the troubles are growing so rapidly at some small and midsize banks that as many as 150 out of the 7,500 banks nationwide could fail over the next 12 to 18 months, analysts say. Other lenders are likely to shut branches or seek mergers.
"Everybody is drawing up lists, trying to figure out who the next bank is, No. 1, and No. 2, how many of them are there," said Richard X. Bove, the banking analyst with Ladenburg Thalmann, who released a list of troubled banks over the weekend. "And No. 3, from the standpoint of Washington, how badly is it going to affect the economy?"