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Regulators OK Insurer Bank Acquisitions

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The Federal Reserve Board has approved the applications of Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. and Protective Life Corp. to acquire troubled savings and loans.

At the same time, the Office of Thrift Supervision says it has approved the application of Phoenix Companies Inc., Hartford, to acquire American Sterling Bank, Sugar Creek, Mo.

The insurers made the acquisitions in an effort to become federally regulated financial institutions that are qualified to participate in the Treasury Department Capital Purchase Program.

The $250 billion CPP pool is part of the $700 billion federal Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP.

Genworth Financial Inc., Richmond, Va., also has applied for permission to become a thrift holding company and then to acquire a thrift. That application is still pending, according to an OTS spokesman.

The original Treasury Department CPP guidelines called for federal agencies to complete work on applications filed by insurers and others by Thursday.

The Fed approved the application filed by Hartford Financial, Hartford, indirectly, by approving the application of Allianz S.E., Munich, Germany, to acquire what could become a 30% stake in Hartford Financial if Allianz exercises warrants it was granted Oct. 6.

The Fed approval of the Allianz application was the last approval Hartford Financial needed to acquire Federal Trust Corp., Sanford, Fla., a unitary thrift holding company.

Last week, Hartford Financial and Lincoln National Corp., Philadelphia, received approval to become savings and loan holding companies.

Hartford Financial has estimated that it might be eligible for a CPP capital purchase of $1.1 billion to $3.4 billion.

Hartford Financial has agreed to pay $1 per share, or $10 million, for Federal Trust, and to add capital to the institution to ensure that it is adequately capitalized.

In the case of Protective, Birmingham, Ala., the Fed gave approval for the company to become a bank holding company by acquiring Bonifay Holding Company Inc., Bonifay, Fla., and the holding company’s Bank of Bonifay subsidiary.

Protective has signed a letter of intent to acquire Bonifay, but no final agreement has been reached, Protective said in November 2008, when it applied for TARP aid. Protective executives could not be reached for comment.

Phoenix executives said their company has signed a non-binding letter of intent to acquire American Sterling but that no final decision has been made about whether the acquisition will be completed. A Phoenix spokesman cited an SEC filing Jan. 7th in which the company said, “There is no assurance that the company’s application to participate in the Capital Purchase Program will be approved or, if approved, that the company will elect to participate on the terms and conditions offered.”

“The acquisition is subject to various conditions, including negotiation of a definitive agreement and approval of the company’s participation in the Capital Purchase Program,” Phoenix says in the filing.


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