America's regulators were last night shoring up the country's financial defences, after one of the biggest bank failures in US history sparked fears about the viability of the world's largest mortgage providers.

The Northern Rock-style collapse of California's Indymac Bank, which had assets of $32bn (£16bn), came amid speculation that regulators are also preparing to step in to save the two federally-backed finance houses known as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which together have commitments of $5 trillion, amounting to half of America's mortgage book.

Government officials closed down Indymac late on Friday, citing a massive run on deposits by worried customers. All 33 branches of the Pasadena-based bank closed three hours early, locking out hundreds of jittery investors hoping to withdraw their savings before it went under.

Independent on Sunday