Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Number of Problem Banks Rise in the Third Quarter

The number of problem banks, as listed by the FDIC, continued to rise in the third quarter of 2010. The number went from 829 at the end of the second quarter to 860 in the third quarter.

Forty-one banks failed in the third quarter, an average of about 3.2 banks per week. A total of 149 banks have been closed through the first three quarters of 2010, an average of 3.8 per week. Thus, the pace of bank closings has been relatively steady throughout the year, somewhere between 3 and 4 banks per week.

The total number of FDIC-insured commercial banks in the system was 7,760 at the end of the third quarter. This is down from 7,830 at the end of the second quarter and 8,195 at the end of the second quarter of 2009. So, the number of banks in the system dropped by 70 banks in the third quarter. Since June 30, 2009, the number of banks in the system has fallen by 435.

The decline in the number of banks in the banking system is not all failures as some banks are merged into other banks before the bank is closed by the FDIC. For example, in the third quarter of 2010, 30 mergers took place.

So, the industry is shrinking by bank failings and by the consolidation of healthy banks with banks that are not in very good shape. From June 30, 2009 to June 30, 2010, the number of banks in the banking system dropped by 365 banks, an average of 7 banks per week. In the third quarter of 2010 the number of banks dropped by 70 banks, an average of about 5.5 banks per week.

This fact raises concerns not only about those banks that are listed on the problem list, but what about those banks that are in serious trouble but do not “qualify” to be on the FDIC’s problem list?

How many surprises are out there?

Wilmington Trust, in Wilmington, Delaware, was considered to be doing OK. Then, the bombshell hit. Wilmington Trust ended up being sold at a 45% discount. (See

How many more banks in the system are facing the same fate as Wilmington Trust?

Earlier this year Elizabeth Warren told Congress that as many as 3,000 commercial banks were facing real problems over the next 18 months.

My prediction is that the total number of banks in the banking system will drop to 4,000 or so over the next five years. This is down from 7,760 at the end of the third quarter of 2010, a reduction in the number of banks of 3,760 banks or of approximately 750 banks per year for the next five years.

There is good news:
“Banks and savings institutions earned $14.5 billion in the third quarter, $12.5 billion more than the industry’s $2 billion profit a year ago, the FDIC said yesterday. The third-quarter income was below the $17.7 billion and $21.4 billion reported in this year’s first and second quarters, but agency officials said the shortfall was attributable to a huge goodwill impairment charge at one institution.

A reduction in loan-loss provisions was the primary factor contributing to third-quarter earnings…. While third-quarter loan-loss provisions were still high, at $34.3 billion, they were $28 billion -- or 44.5 percent -- lower than a year earlier. Net interest income was $8.1 billion -- or 8.1 percent-- higher than a year ago, and realized gains on securities and other assets improved by $7.3 billion, officials said.”

This was from the American Bankers Association release, “Newsbytes”.

But, the good news was not for all sectors of the banking industry. As I have been reporting in my posts, the largest twenty-five banks continue to prosper at the expense of the smaller banks. One must report that the “good news” presented above is for the industry as a whole. For the largest twenty-five banks, the news is “good”. For the other 7, 735 banks…the results are really “not-so-good”.

And this is why the worry is focused on the smaller banks.

We keep getting bits of news like that reported in the NYTimes this morning, “Large Banks Still Have a Financing Advantage” (

“What happened to ending ‘too big to fail?’ That was one objective of the financial overhaul bill, the Dodd-Frank Act, that was passed this year. Central to the legislation were rules intended to make big banks less exciting and safer. It also created an authority meant to smoothly wind down even the largest institutions without greatly disrupting the financial system.

Five months after the bill’s passage, big banks should have lost at least some of their financing advantage over smaller rivals. But as the latest quarterly report from the FDIC shows, too big to fail is still very much alive and well.”

The point being made is that the average “cost of funding earning assets” for commercial banks in excess of $10 billion (109 banks out of the 7,760 banks in the system) was 0.80 percent. The average cost of the 7,651 smaller banks was an average of 1.29 percent so that the bigger banks had a 49 basis point advantage over the smaller banks. (Note that the gap was 69 basis points a year ago.)

The average cost of funding earning assets was even lower for the largest 25 banks in the country!

It seems like everything the policy makers are doing is benefitting the largest banks in the country.

And, what is being done for the smaller banks…the other 7,735 banks?

The Federal Reserve is pumping plenty of liquidity into the banking system so that the FDIC can reduce the number of banks in the banking system as smoothly as possible. (See my post “The Real Reason for Fed Easing”:

In reducing the number of banks in the banking system we don’t want disruptions and we don’t want panic. If this is the goal of the Federal Reserve and the FDIC, then they are doing a good job. The bank closure situation has, so far, neither resulted in major disruptions to the financial system or the economy or panic over the state of the banking industry.

The dismantling of the former United States banking system is going quite smoothly, thank you.

The future United States banking system is going to look entirely different. What might that banking system look like? Try the Canadian banking system or the banking system in Great Britain…a few very large banks dominate these systems. Is that what the United States system is going to look like?

No comments: