Depression 2.0: Bank Run

Californians rush to pull money from Countrywide Bank

LOS ANGELES — Anxious customers jammed the phone lines and Web site of Countrywide Bank and crowded its branch offices to pull out their savings because of concerns about the financial problems of the mortgage lender that owns the bank.

Countrywide Financial Corp., the biggest home-loan company in the United States, sought Thursday to assure depositors and the financial industry that both it and its bank were fiscally stable. And federal regulators said they weren’t alarmed by the volume of withdrawals from the bank.

The mortgage lender said it would further tighten its loan standards and make fewer large mortgages. Those moves could make it harder to get a home loan and further depress the housing market.

The rush to withdraw money — by depositors that included a former Los Angeles Kings star hockey player and an executive of a rival home-loan company — came a day after fears arose that Countrywide Financial could file for bankruptcy protection because of a worsening credit crunch stemming from the sub-prime mortgage meltdown.

Just how big is this meltdown going to be? Will it dwarf the original S&L crisis? And can we recover this time? Ugly days might be ahead.

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