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The following story of two community banks illustrates the multi-layered, and sometimes competing, issues that must be navigated by these institutions as they seek to deal with the sour real estate loans on their balance sheet. Both banks had roughly the same amount of distress, but they had vastly different perceptions of the economic downturn, says Jim Gardner, chairman of Dallas- based Commerce Street Capital LLC. One believed there would be a V-shaped recovery. That bank almost went under because it waited so long to deal with its distressed loans-and it will still be touch-and-go for a while.

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