United Commercial Bank is shut down, sold to East West Bancorp

Toppled by loan losses and misstated financial reports, San Francisco’s United Commercial Bank was shut down by regulators Friday night and immediately sold to Pasadena’s East West Bancorp, creating by far the largest U.S. bank focused on the Chinese American market.

The combination also will be the largest bank based in Southern California, surpassing City National Bancorp.

East West agreed to assume all of United Commercial’s deposits, so no depositors will lose money, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said. The bank’s 63 U.S. branches, including 17 in Southern California, will reopen Saturday as branches of East West Bank.

United Commercial, a unit of UCBH Holdings Inc., was the fourth-largest bank to fail this year. That position was formerly occupied by California National Bank of Los Angeles, which failed last week and was acquired by U.S. Bancorp of Minneapolis.


Regulators also seized on Friday one bank each in Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota and Missouri, bringing to 120 the number of failures this year.

United Commercial’s collapse may cause a greater-than-usual stir because a year ago the federal government invested $299 million in bailout funds in the bank in exchange for preferred stock, which was made worthless by the failure.

In addition, the FDIC said the collapse would cost the federal deposit insurance fund an estimated $1.4 billion.

East West raised $500 million in new capital to support the takeover, most of it from mutual funds and other existing shareholders, said Dominic Ng, chairman of the Pasadena-based lender.

The privately placed stock sales will enable East West to proceed slowly as it integrates the two banks, then have plenty of capital later next year to consider additional expansion by adding branches or making more acquisitions.

The takeover will greatly expand the reach of East West, which has concentrated on Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to 69 California offices, East West has full-service branches in Houston and Hong Kong.

United Commercial not only has dozens of branches in California but also has locations in key Chinese American areas, including New York, Boston, Seattle, Atlanta and Houston.

What’s more, because of its 2007 acquisition of a Shanghai bank, United Commercial also has a banking license in China -- a “rare and hard-to-come-by” asset that makes it easier to operate and expand in that country, , said RBC Capital Markets analyst Joe Morford. It has full-service offices in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Shantou, China.

United Commercial, East West and Cathay General Bancorp of Los Angeles have vied for years to become the largest of the banks focused on the Chinese American market.

East West, which had $12.5 billion in assets at last report, agreed to acquire $10.2 billion of United Commercial’s $11.2 billion in assets. That would put the combined bank, at almost $23 billion in assets, ahead of L.A.-based City National as the largest bank based in Southern California. At last report, City National had $18.4 billion in assets.

The FDIC agreed to absorb most of the expected losses on about $7.7 billion of the United Commercial assets acquired by East West.

Like its Chinese American rivals, United Commercial was burned by commercial lending losses, especially loans to developers and home builders during the housing boom. But it also was tainted by a financial scandal that resulted in a shake-up of its top management.

UCBH announced in September that its financial reports could not be trusted because of the “deliberate and improper actions and omissions of certain bank officers,” who had understated losses in “an apparent desire to downplay deteriorating financial conditions.”

The company’s longtime chief executive, Thomas S. Wu, resigned in September, along with its chief operating officer.

Ng said he believed his new customers would happily accept a takeover by another California-based Chinese American bank rather than an institution “from somewhere else -- New York, or a foreign bank.”

Ng said he anticipated only a few branch closures. Some back-office employees will be let go, he said.




Biggest banks in California

Here are the largest banks based in California, including units of foreign companies.

* Wells Fargo, San Francisco

$1.24 trillion in assets

* Union Bank, San Francisco

$73 billion

* Bank of the West, San Francisco

$62 billion

* East West, Pasadena

$22.7 billion

* City National, Los Angeles

$18.4 billion

* Cathay General, Los Angeles $11.4 billion

Note: Assets are as of June 30, except for East West. Its assets include $10.2 billion of the former assets of United Commercial.

Source: FDIC