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Robert Trigaux

Battle of mega-wealthy looms for BankUnited

Wilburrossbloomberg Wake up and good morning. Is a financial solution in sight for Coral Gables-based BankUnited Financial, Florida's largest (but struggling) headquartered financial institution? Bloomberg News reports that John Kanas, North Fork Bancorp’s former chief executive officer, is leading a bid by Carlyle Group, Blackstone Group LP and WL Ross & Co., to acquire BankUnited.

Kanas, 62, is an adviser to billionaire Wilbur Ross (shown in photo by Bloomberg News).Kanas would run BankUnited, said Bloomberg, citing three unnamed people who asked not to be identified because the information is private. The group includes Centerbridge Capital Partners LLC.

Federal regulators earlier this year deemed BankUnited "critically undercapitalized" and told it to find a merger partner or buyer. They set a May 14 deadline for final bids. Private-equity firms have assembled teams and funds to buy banks at discounts after more than $1.4 trillion in losses triggered by the global credit crisis.

ChrisflowersbloombergAnother investor group may also be interested in BankUnited. According to the Miami HeraldJC Flowers & Co., a New York investment firm run by J. Christopher Flowers, is looking at acquiring the institution.(Photo of Flowers by Bloomberg News.)

Will it work? Here's an intriguing piece from the New York Times that gives some good insight into the Flowers strategy for pushing vigorously into banking (while banks are weak and cheap) but also notes some potential  regulatory hurdles that could crimp his style. Flowers' investments in banks overseas have made him one of the richest men in America. But Wilbur Ross and his cadre of Carlyle and Blackstone are hardly slouches, either. Either way, the crippled BankUnited should be reinvigorated, even if control of Florida's largest homegrown institution falls to the mega-wealthy.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist 

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:24am]


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