The hedge fund billionaires who took over the remains of imploded IndyMac Bank after the mortgage meltdown and converted it into OneWest Bank are exploring the possibility of selling the big Pasadena savings and loan, according to people informed about the process.
Discussions have been held with several banks, these people said, although the talks are at only a preliminary stage — "the kick of a tire or two," as one said.
OneWest Chairman Steven Mnuchin, the former Goldman Sachs mortgage executive who led the group that bought IndyMac from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in 2009, declined to be interviewed. OneWest executives have said all along that at some point they intended to sell the bank outright or have it offer stock to the public, with a sale being the preferred alternative.
Two people briefed on the negotiations described them as informal, an opportunity for the owners to assess what kind of bids might be made for OneWest. The people spoke on the condition that their names not be revealed because they weren't authorized to comment publicly.
At the end of 2012, OneWest had more than 70 branches, $15 billion in deposits and nearly $26 billion in assets.
A sale has been rumored off and on for the last two years but may prove difficult to accomplish, longtime banking consultant Bert Ely said. Major U.S. banks would probably encounter political and regulatory repercussions from taking over a target as large and controversial as OneWest.
"The thrust right now is how do we downsize these" big banks, Ely said.
He said a foreign-owned bank might be tempted by a chance to expand in the rich California market, but thought an initial public offering might prove the only way for the investors to get their money out of OneWest.
A comment by Joseph Otting, the veteran banker hired as OneWest's president and chief executive, seemed to give weight to that assessment.
"We remain focused on our business plan and becoming a public company in 2014," Otting said in an email. "We like where we are and the positive impact we are having on the SoCal banking community."
The FDIC, which had run failed IndyMac for eight months, sold the bank to the private investors in March 2009. The bank's so-called assets included a vast collection of soured home loans. The FDIC, which agreed to share losses on the mortgages, has calculated that its total losses on IndyMac will reach $13 billion — the costliest bank failure in U.S. history.
The investor group, led by Mnuchin's Dune Capital Management, put up $1.55 billion in 2009 to revitalize the bank. Other investors included bank buyout expert J. Christopher Flowers, computer mogul Michael S. Dell and hedge fund operators George Soros and John Paulson.
In a year-end report to his investors, Paulson indicated that OneWest was worth $2.89 billion as of January, according to Bloomberg News, which first reported the sales discussions. Through a spokesman, Paulson declined to comment.
IndyMac failed in July 2008 after depositors rushed to pull out cash. A specialist in loans made with little or no verification of borrowers' incomes, it became a high-profile meltdown in the mortgage market, which helped lead to a crisis that threatened to undermine the nation's financial system.
The run on deposits occurred too quickly for the FDIC to find another bank to take over the failing institution, forcing the agency to operate IndyMac for eight months.