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WL Ross purchases bank assets

The distressed buyout firm’s acquisition of nearly 70% of First Bank & Trust could lead to further banking asset purchases in the future.

Buyout firm WL Ross & Co. has agreed to purchase more than 68 percent of First Bank & Trust Co., a Florida-based bank with $83 million in assets, with an eye toward acquiring more banking assets in the future.

Chairman Wilbur Ross said in an interview with Bloomberg that the bank has good growth opportunities, especially as the local economy in Indiantown, where the company is based, expected to receive a boost by a new solar energy plant being built there.

Ross added that he will look at other possible banking acquisitions once the deal receives regulatory approval, and that some institutions that have been receiving funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) may start looking to private equity for future capital. Both Citi and Bank of America have requested more government capital after receiving earlier TARP investment.

Earlier last year WL Ross, which was founded in 2000, hired John Kanas, a former chief executive of North Fork Bancorp, to advise on financial services investments. Ross said at the time that the environment for deal-making in the industry was ideal due to shrinking lenders' profit margins and increasing pressure for consolidation.

The distressed investment-focused firm also raised $4 billion in 2008 for its fourth fund, which surpassed its $2.5 billion target and significantly exceeded its predecessor, which closed on $1 billion in August 2005. The fund was its first since it was acquired by asset management firm Invesco in July 2006 for $375 million.