It's not that Joseph Ficalora looks forward to economic downturns, but both in the past and now they've been good for his company, New York Community Bancorp of Westbury.

The company, one of the biggest bank companies in the nation, runs nine divisions, including Roslyn Savings Bank and New York Commercial Bank. It has 279 branches, 66 of which are on Long Island. The company recapped the year Thursday morning at its annual shareholder meeting in Flushing.

The bank does well because it lends almost entirely to a narrow market -- owners of rent-controlled apartments. They have stable income in good times and bad and rarely default on their loans.

"We choose people who know what they're doing" after careful inspections, Ficalora said. "We don't want to run these buildings" after a foreclosure.

In good times, Ficalora said, the bank sacrifices income for stability and in bad times, like this, it is strong enough to acquire less successful banks. Its done that twice in the past six months, purchasing both Ohio-based AmTrust Bank and Arizona-based Desert Hills Bank after they failed.

Ficalora said he expects the national economy's recovery to falter and slip back into a deeper recession.

"I see lots of challenges that could result in many opportunities" for New York Community Bancorp, he said. "In a difficult period, we have strength; we have earnings."

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