Washington Mutual seen near $5 bln TPG deal

NEW YORK Mon Apr 7, 2008 4:42pm EDT

1 of 2. A woman walks into a Washington Mutual bank in New York April 7, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Joshua Lott

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Washington Mutual Inc (WM.N), the largest U.S. savings and loan, is close to obtaining a $5 billion injection from investors led by private equity firm TPG Inc, people familiar with the situation said on Monday.

An investment would ease the thrift's need for capital as losses have soared from subprime mortgages and other loans.

A transaction could be announced Monday or Tuesday, said the people, who declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak.

Shares of Washington Mutual were up $2.89, or 28.4 percent, to $13.06 in late afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Financial stock indexes also outperformed stocks in general.

An investment could dilute holdings of existing shareholders but could also provide stability for WaMu, as the thrift calls itself.

Meanwhile, some investors who had "shorted" the thrift's shares may have bought the stock to cover their bets on a decline, contributing to Monday's gains.

TPG and WaMu declined to comment.

Seattle-based WaMu would join more than a dozen commercial and investment banks seeking cash from outside investors in the last year, after more than $200 billion of write-downs and credit losses tied to the nation's housing and credit crisis.

"The Washington Mutual news doesn't mean there won't be another shoe to drop," said Matt McCall, president of Penn Financial Group in Denver. "What I see tells me we are definitely in a bottoming process."

A $5 billion investment would represent more than half of Washington Mutual's $9 billion market value on Friday.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the investment would give investors common and preferred shares. TPG would receive a seat on WaMu's board, the newspaper said.

The investment could be a sign of confidence in the banking system, but would also expose TPG to losses if WaMu's business soured further.

Fort Worth, Texas-based TPG was once known as Texas Pacific Group, and said it invests more than $30 billion of capital.

WaMu lost $1.87 billion in the fourth quarter, hurt by exposure to housing markets such as California and Florida.

Analysts expect more losses at least through 2008, and several have said the thrift has not set aside enough to cover bad loans.

LOSSES MOUNT

Last year, WaMu was the nation's sixth-largest U.S. mortgage lender and 11th-largest subprime lender, according to the newsletter Inside Mortgage Finance.

While WaMu has pared its exposure to subprime and other riskier home loans, it didn't do so fast enough, and losses have soared as credit markets have squeezed down.

The thrift's other units include retail banking, commercial banking and credit cards. To shore up capital, WaMu in the fourth quarter cut its dividend 73 percent and sold $3.9 billion of preferred shares.

For Chief Executive Kerry Killinger, the TPG investment could provide breathing room as he cuts costs elsewhere.

WaMu's board decided earlier this year that mortgage-related credit losses and foreclosure costs would not count in setting his performance bonus.

CtW Investment Group, which said it represents union pension funds, in March asked shareholders to vote against the reelection of WaMu finance committee chair Mary Pugh and human resources chair James Stever at the April 15 annual meeting.

On Monday, it said four shareholder advisory groups -- Egan-Jones Proxy Services, Glass Lewis & Co, Proxy Governance and RiskMetrics Group Inc's RMG.N ISS Governance Services -- have called for withholding votes from one or more directors.

The investment may for now end the possibility of JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) buying WaMu.

According to the Journal, which cited a person familiar with the matter, JPMorgan made a preliminary takeover offer but talks broke down last week. JPMorgan is buying troubled investment bank Bear Stearns Cos Inc BSC.N.

Thrifts were so named because they originally offered only savings accounts. Many now offer a wide range of products, after hundreds collapsed in the 1980s savings-and-loan crisis.

(Additional reporting by Herbert Lash, Ellis Mnyandu, Aarthi Sivaraman and Dan Wilchins; editing by Dave Zimmerman and Gerald E. McCormick)