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The last time U.S. banks faced a recession, many crumpled.
Already weakened by a severe real estate crisis and fallout from the savings and loan debacle in the late `80s, hundreds of financial institutions found themselves unable to weather the economic downturn of 1990 and 1991.
During those two years, more than 650 banks and savings institutions failed. As the economy launched on its record expansion, that number shriveled: In 1997, only one institution collapsed.
The number ticked up slightly as the decade closed, but only four failed in 2001. Although that could increase this year, failures _ and the loan problems that often trigger them _ will not be nearly as severe during 2002 as they were in the last recession, experts say.
"This is a new world," said Martin Mayer, author of several books on banks and the markets, …