Monday, April 11, 2011

The Small Banks Are Going Nowhere

Over the past six months or so the total assets of the smaller banks in the United States (smaller than the largest 25 banks) have remained relatively constant. Total assets averaged about $3.6 trillion in September 2010 and they averaged just below this number in March 2011.

And, given the Federal Reserve’s QE2 policy which has caused the cash assets of commercial banks in the United States to increase by almost $350 billion over this time period, the cash assets of these smaller banks remained roughly constant.

Over the past 13-week period, total assets at these smaller banks increased a modest $3 billion, but over the last 4-week span of time, total assets dropped by almost $10 billion.

Cash assets (over the past 13 weeks) rose by slightly more than $3 billion at a time when the total cash assets of the whole banking system were increasing by more than $480 billion.

The smaller commercial banking sector seems to be going nowhere.

What about credit extension amongst these banks?

Loans and leases at the smaller banks dropped by more than $8 billion over the last four weeks. The drop over the last thirteen weeks was slightly more than that.

And the largest 25 banks?

Total assets at the largest banks have increased by $60 billion over the past four weeks and by almost $90 billion over the last thirteen weeks. Most of the growth these largest institutions have come in cash assets. However, the increase in cash assets at the largest 25 banks in the United States has been small relative to the increase in the cash assets of foreign-related financial institutions in the United States. (See

And, what about bank loans at these larger banks?

Since the end of 2010, loans and leases at commercial banks in the United States have declined by about $105 billion; and over the last four weeks of the first quarter, loans and leases at large commercial banks have declined by about $11 billion.

Business loans have rallied some over the last thirteen weeks, up a little more than $12 billion, but $10 billion of this increase has come in the last 4-week period.

Real estate loans have plummeted at commercial banks both over the last four weeks and the last thirteen weeks. The declines have come in both residential and commercial real estate loans.

And, what asset class, other than cash assets, has increased the most at the larger financial institutions? The securities portfolio.

So, the update on the banking industry as of the end of the first quarter of 2011?

The smaller banks, as a whole, continue to be in a holding pattern. And, QE2 seems to be doing little or nothing for these institutions. The cash reserves the Fed is pumping into the banking system is going to either the foreign-related financial institutions in the United States or the largest 25 commercial banks in the United States.

The smaller banks are not increasing their loan portfolios.

For the larger banks, QE2 is having some impact as cash reserves at the largest banks are increasing and the securities portfolios of these institutions are also increasing.

However, loans, as a whole, are not increasing…although there seems to have been a little pickup in the area of business loans.

Overall, one sees very little evidence that the Fed’s QE2 is having any impact on bank lending which, of course, does not provide much evidence that economic growth is going to begin accelerating in the near future.

Not very encouraging.

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