Oh, boo hoo! How dare the Fed stop him from having his way? More to the point, how dare they say "no" to a Wall St. player? (Which begs the rhetorical
May 7, 2009

Oh, boo hoo! How dare the Fed stop him from having his way? More to the point, how dare they say "no" to a Wall St. player? (Which begs the rhetorical question: Don't these people ever learn?)

CAINSVILLE, Mo. — No one seems to want to own a business in this dusty, windswept corner of rural America, population 370, with its crumbling sidewalks and boarded-up storefronts.

Except, that is, for J. Christopher Flowers, a media-shy New York billionaire who last year bought the First National Bank of Cainesville, one of the United States’ smallest national banks.

Mr. Flowers, a private equity manager, has no particular love for rural Missouri; in fact, he has never set foot in Cainsville. Rather, he wants to use the national bank charter he picked up in this farm town to go on a nationwide buying spree.

With that charter in hand, Mr. Flowers plans to take over a handful of large struggling banks, casualties of the economic crisis. In some cases, he hopes, the federal government will help.

But Mr. Flowers, whose investments in banks overseas have made him one of the richest men in America, has run into a major obstacle in the United States: the Federal Reserve, and its very notion of what a bank should be.

The Fed does not mind if private equity firms have a minority interest in banks — the Obama administration even wants them to invest. But the Fed will not let them take control, a stance the firms are lobbying regulators mightily to change, especially given that stress test results to be released Thursday are expected to show a glaring need for capital in the banking system.

It’s not personal, Fed officials say. It’s just that as the nation recovers from one of the worst banking crises in history, the Federal Reserve wants to make sure that it does not set the stage for the next financial implosion by turning banks over to private equity firms, some of the riskiest players in the business world.

So while Mr. Flowers was able to buy the bank here with his own money, he cannot tap into the billions his firm, J. C. Flowers & Company, has raised.

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