Ross, Carlyle, Centerbridge Bidding For BankUnited

(Reuters) – Troubled Florida lender BankUnited Financial Corp (BKUNA.O) has drawn at least one bid from a private equity consortium that includes WL Ross & Co, a source familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

Bids for the bank, which had assets of $13.1 billion and deposits of $8.7 billion as of March 31, were due in to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp on Tuesday morning, the source said.

Besides Ross, the consortium also includes Carlyle Group [CYL.UL], Blackstone Group LP (BX.N) and Centerbridge Capital Partners LLC, the source said.

The consortium declined to comment, while BankUnited was not immediately available. The source is anonymous because the auction is not public.

The BankUnited bid is the latest sign of private equity interest in troubled banks and thrifts, whose numbers are expected to increase amid the financial crisis.

The sale of the largest Florida-based bank is also being watched for how a deal is structured. Bank ownership comes with regulations that can restrict operations of private equity firms, but regulators have sometimes allowed deals in which private equity and other firms have avoided that pitfall.

Government-assisted transactions are attractive as buyers can work out deals to protect themselves from losses. Earlier this year, a group of private equity and hedge fund firms, including Dune Capital Management and J.C. Flowers & Co, bought assets of failed mortgage lender IndyMac in such an assisted deal.

Flowers was also earlier reported in the media to be weighing a bid for BankUnited. Another source had told Reuters previously that Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) and Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD.TO) could also bid for the bank.

Regulators had deemed BankUnited “critically undercapitalized” as of Jan. 30, and directed it to seek a buyer or a merger partner. But a 20-day period to meet regulatory directives expired on May 4 without compliance by the bank, making it subject to enforcement actions, including an FDIC receivership, according to a regulatory filing.

BankUnited shares were up 2.1 percent to 91 cents in afternoon trading on Nasdaq.
By Paritosh Bansal
(Editing by Phil Berlowitz)