Monday, October 31, 2011

Business Lending is Increasing, Especially at the Largest US Banks

Business lending continues to accelerate in US commercial banking system according to the latest data released by the Federal Reserve System.  Although overall lending has not increased by much in the commercial banks, only about $27 billion year-over-year at all domestic and foreign-related institutions, business loans (commercial and industrial loans) rose by more than $95 billion. 

True, many of these loans have gone to support acquisitions and other uses that are not directly related to expanding economic expansion.  Still, it is good to see more life in this particular area of bank lending.

Most of the increase in business lending came from the largest twenty-five banks in the country and foreign-related financial institutions.  Business loans did increase modestly at the small- and medium-sized banks, but not by much.

Commercial banks continued to allow their real estate and consumer loans to run off, the largest declines coming in the commercial real estate area.  All real estate loans at commercial banks decreased by almost $160 billion, year-over-year, with $86 billion of the decline coming at the largest twenty-five commercial banks and almost $70 billion coming in the rest of the domestically chartered banks.  The largest proportion of these declines came in the commercial real estate area. 

Consumer loans declined by about $41 billion in the whole banking system, year-over-year, with $38 billion of the decline coming in the largest 25 banks.

On another note, one can still see how the Federal Reserve is helping to finance banks in the eurozone.  Cash assets in the whole commercial banking system rose by almost $620 billion, year-over-year, with the rise at the foreign-related financial institutions absorbing almost $490 billion of the total.  At the same time the net deposits to foreign offices at these foreign-related financial institutions rose by more than $590 billion.  The average increase in these net deposits to foreign offices over the past month was another $50 billion. 

The Federal Reserve has done what it can to supply liquidity to European-related financial institutions to help them through the recent financial crisis.

I still have substantial concern about the smaller commercial banks in the United States.  The statistics still do not look good to me.  The total assets at the “smaller” banks rose by about $58 billion over the last year, but over $39 billion of that increase came in the cash assets of these institutions.  Although business loans at these institutions rose modestly, as mentioned above, total loans at these “smaller” banks dropped by almost $60 billion.  These “smaller” banks are just not growing.

A very large number of these smaller banks are just “sitting on their hands” hoping to survive.  These banks are doing everything they can to work out their loan portfolios and to become more liquid.  The reserves for bad assets have declined, but these declines are coming at the healthier banks.  And, given the low interest rates that can be earned on securities, the profits of many of these smaller banks are not sufficient to help them recover from the bad assets that are still on their balance sheets.  It is just amazing the numbers related to bad commercial real estate loans that are on these balance sheets. 

One could say that the good news is still related to the fact that there are not major disruptions occurring in the commercial banking sector.  This “peace and quiet” allows the FDIC to close as many banks as need to be closed without a big fuss.  This year 85 banks have been closed, just under 2 per week.  This figure, however, does not include the decline in the number of banks still open due to acquisitions.  I am still expecting some 2,000 or so commercial banks to drop out of the banking system over the next five years or so. 

It is hard to imagine that bank lending will grow much in the future given all the vacant residential real estate and commercial real estate that is around and all the foreclosures that are still to come.  An examination of the commercial banking sector does not give us much hope about the possibility of a more rapid expansion of the economy. 

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