The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. says its roster of "problem" financial institutions grew to include 305 banks and thrifts in the first three months of this year, a 21 percent jump from the final quarter of 2008 and the most since 1994.

Banks that make the list aren't doomed, but they face financial hurdles that put them at a greater risk of failure. Beset by rising losses on home mortgages, consumer credit cards and commercial real estate loans, 36 banks have been seized by regulators this year.


The sharp rise in banks on the FDIC's watch list suggests many more failures could be coming.

"Banks are making good efforts to deal with the challenges they're facing, but today's report says that we're not out of the woods yet," FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair said in a statement. "As I see it, we're now in the cleanup phase for the banking industry."

The FDIC said the troubled banks boasted total assets of $220 billion, up from $159 billion at the end of last year.

Though the number of banks on the list gets a lot of attention, it comes as part of a quarterly update on the health of the banking industry that includes plenty of other measures of the sector's health. FDIC-insured banks posted total profits of $7.6 billion in the first quarter, down 61 percent from a year ago, according to the report. That's a significant improvement over last year's fourth quarter, when banks lost a combined $26.2 billion as the financial crisis worsened.

Nevertheless, banks insured by the FDIC charged off $37.8 billion in bad loans during the first three months of the year, nearly twice as much as during the same period a year earlier. "Troubled loans continue to accumulate, and the costs associated with impaired assets are weighing heavily on the industry's performance," Bair said in the statement.

The names of banks on the list are kept secret to prevent runs that could destabilize them further. And Bair has pointed out in the past that on average only about 13 percent of institutions on the list ultimately fail.

But given the pace at which regulators are seizing failed banks this year, those anxious to learn the identities of financial institutions in trouble do have one option: Just wait.

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