Posts Tagged ‘loans’

The Fed Sends 19 Biggest Banks Back to the Treadmill

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

The Federal Reserve‘s second round of stress tests requires the 19 largest U.S. banks to examine their capital levels against a worst-possible-case scenario of another recession with the unemployment rate hovering above 8.9 percent. The banks were instructed to test how their loans, securities, earnings, and capital performed when compared with at least three possible economic outcomes as part of a broad capital-planning exercise.  The banks, including some seeking to increase dividends cut during the financial crisis, submitted their plans in January.  The Fed will complete its review in March.

“They’re essentially saying, ‘Before you start returning capital to shareholders, let’s make sure banks’ capital bases are strong enough to withstand a double-dip scenario,'” said Jonathan Hatcher, a credit strategist at New York-based Jefferies Group Inc.  Regulators don’t want to see banks “come crawling back for help later,” he said.

The review “allows our supervisors to compare the progress made by each firm in developing a rigorous internal analysis of its capital needs, with its own idiosyncratic characteristics and risks, as well as to see how the firms would fare under a standardized adverse scenario developed by our economists,” Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo said. Although Fed policymakers aren’t predicting another slump any time soon, they want banks to be prepared for one.  In January, the Federal Open Market Committee forecast a growth rate of 3.4 percent or more annually over the next three years, with the jobless rate falling to between 6.8 percent and 7.2 percent by the 4th quarter of 2013.  Unemployment averaged 9.6 percent in the 4th quarter of 2010.

The new round of stress tests are being overseen by a financial-risk unit known as the Large Institution Supervision Coordinating Committee (LISCC).  The unit relies on the Fed’s economists, quantitative researchers, regulatory experts and forecasters and examines risks across the financial system.  Last year, the LISCC helped Ben Bernanke respond to an emerging liquidity crisis faced by European banks.  “The current review of firms’ capital plans is another step forward in our approach to supervision of the largest banking organizations,” Tarullo said. “It has also served as an occasion for discussion in the LISCC of the overall state of the industry and key issues faced by banking organizations.”

At the same time, Bernanke expressed his support for the Dodd-Frank Act, which will add new layers of regulation to the financial services industry, as well as the Consumer Protection Act. “Dodd-Frank is a major step forward for financial regulation in the United States,” Bernanke said, noting that the Fed is moving swiftly to implement its provisions.  Additionally, the Fed wants banks to think about how the Dodd-Frank Act might affect earnings, and how they will meet stricter international capital guidelines.  Banks will have to determine how many faulty mortgages investors may ask them to take back into their portfolios.  Standard & Poor’s estimates that mortgage buybacks could carry a $60 billion bill to be paid by the banking industry.

In the meantime, the big banks are feeling adequately cash rich to pay dividends to their stockholders.  Bank of America’s CEO Brian T. Moynihan said that he expects to “modestly increase” dividends in the 2nd half of 2011.  “We’d love to raise the dividend,” James Rohr, CEO of PNC, said.  “We’re hopeful of hearing back in March from the regulators.”  JPMorgan CFO Douglas Braunstein told investors that the bank asked regulators for permission to increase the dividend to 30 percent of normalized earnings over time.  Braunstein said that JPMorgan’s own stress scenario was more severe than the Fed’s, and assumed that the GDP fell more than four percent through the 3rd quarter of this year with unemployment peaking at 11.7 percent.

Clive Crook, a senior editor of The Atlantic, a columnist for National Journal, and a commentator for the Financial Times, believes that United States fiscal policy itself merits examination.  Writing in The Atlantic, Crook says that “Fiscal policy needs a hypothetical stress test, just like bank capital.  Let’s be optimistic and suppose that the deficit projections do hold, and that a debt ratio of 80 percent can be comfortably supported at full employment.  What happens when we enter the next recession with debt at that level?  Assume another really serious downturn, and another 30-odd percentage points of debt.  Worried yet?  That’s why the problem won’t wait another ten years, and why sort-of-stabilizing at 80 percent won’t do.”

TARP Banks Lending on the Rise

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Lending by banks that received TARP assistance rose 13 percent in December.  Eleven American banks that received money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) originated 13 percent more loans in December than they had the previous month. The Department of the Treasury released this information in its monthly survey of loans made by recipients of the $700 billion government bailout money.

According to the Treasury Department, total loan balances fell one percent during the same timeframe.  This report does not include statistics from banks that repaid their TARP funds in June of 2009; future reports will not include data from banks that are exiting the TARP program.

A total of $178.1 billion in new loans was made during December, according to the Treasury.  Bank of America led the pack in originating loans, with $64.6 billion, an 11 percent increase over November.  Wells Fargo & Company occupied second place with a six percent increase, reporting $58.3 billion in new loans.  Citigroup lent $16.3 billion, an 11 percent increase.

Recession Coming to an End: The Fed

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Eleven of the 12 regional Federal Reserve banks showed signs of a stabilizing or improving economy during July and August, according to the Fed’s latest Beige Book report.  The Beige Book’s anecdotal evidence found that the nation’s worst recession in 70 years is coming to an end.  The Fed expects the economy to grow by three or four percent in the fourth quarter of 2009.  That stands in sharp contrast to the one percent decline from April through June, and the 6.4 percent contraction during the first quarter of the year.good-business-growth-2

In the latest survey, the Dallas region reported that economic activity had “firmed”. The Fed regions of Boston, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Richmond and San Francisco reported “signs of improvement.” In Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Minneapolis and New York, the Fed reported activity as “stable or  showing signs of stabilization.  The St. Louis region was the exception, where the contraction’s pace “appeared to be moderating.”

“We are slowly on the road to recovery,” former Fed Governor Robert Heller told Bloomberg Television.  The Beige Book “confirms that we have turned the corner.”

Despite the Beige Book’s declaration that stabilization is occurring, it still found weakness in the commercial real estate market where little new construction is underway.  According to the report, “Several participants noted that banks still faced a sizable risk of additional credit losses and that many small and medium-sized banks were vulnerable to deteriorating performance of commercial real estate loans.”

Investment Banking in an Economic Meltdown

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Investment banks are hunkering down locked_up_moneyto preserve capital, primarily because there are grave concerns about current property valuations, says Charles Krawitz, Senior Loan Sales Asset Manager, Fifth Third Bank, in an interview for The Alter Group podcasts on real estate.  Banks are reluctant to lend $10 million to a property that might be worth only $8 million, and with good reason.  Multifamily housing currently is the least distressed asset class, thanks to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and FHA financing that is creating a market for loans on these properties.

Distressed assets fall into three tranches – buildings, loans and securities.  According to Charles, if a property is struggling and the cash flow is impaired, there is a commercial lending problem.  In a CMBS structure, the loan has been sliced and diced so many times that it’s likely to be toxic and beyond restructuring.  Fully 1.8 percent of commercial loans cannot be restructured, and $400 billion in loans are rolling over this year alone.  The challenge is to pin down values in a distressed market when there are no comparable sales statistics.

One smart thing that the government has done is expand loans to small businesses through the Small Business Association (SBA).  With interest rates so low, this is very beneficial to small businesses, Charles notes.  Capital is once again flowing – though not in a tsunami – but that’s very good news.  The government will be an equity partner, and it’s likely that certain approved vendors will be part of this program.  A lot of questions remain, but it’s a very strong effort on the government’s part.

To listen to Charles Krawitz’s entire interview on the state of investment banking, click here for the podcast.

Local Banks Facing Significant CRE Losses

Monday, June 15th, 2009

Toxic commercial real estate loans could create losses up to $100 billion for small and mid-size banks by the end of 2010 if the economy worsens.  According to a Wall Street Journal report – which applied the same criteria used by the federal government in its stress tests of 19 big banks — these institutions stand to lose up to $200 billion.  In that worst-case scenario, 600 small and mid-sized excedrin1banks could see their capital contract to levels that federal regulators consider troubling, possibly even surpassing revenues.  These losses would exceed home loan losses, which total approximately $49 billion.

The Journal, which based its analysis on data mined from banks’ filings with the Federal Reserve, are a grim reminder that the banking industry’s troubles are not confined to the 19 giants that have already completed the Treasury Department’s stress tests.  More than 8,000 lenders nationwide are feeling the dual impacts of the recession and commercial real estate slowdown.

The banks analyzed by the Journal include 940 bank-holding companies that filed financial statements with the Fed for the year ending December 31.  They range from large regional banks to mom-and-pop banks in small towns, as well as American-based subsidiaries of international banks.

Smaller banks are unlikely to appeal to bargain-hunting investors who are starting to recapitalize the industry’s giants.  As a result, these institutions must boost their capital by selling assets and making fewer loans – which could make the recession last even longer than anticipated.

“The Giant Pool of Money”

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

$70 trillion dollars.  That’s all the money in the world, or to get technical, the subset of global dollarsavings known as fixed-income securities.  And it almost doubled from $36 trillion in just six years.  How did this happen?

The Federal Reserve presided over the creation of what we have learned (the hard way) is a monster of unregulated investment vehicles run amok, resulting in the global credit crisis.

In the words of National Public Radio’s international business reporter Adam Davidson, “What he (former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan) is saying is he’s going to keep the Fed Funds rate at the absurdly low level of one percent.  It tells every investor in the world:  you are not going to make any money at all on U.S. treasury bonds for a very long time.  Go somewhere else.  We can’t help you.  And so the global pool of money looked around for some low-risk, high-return investment.  And among the many things they put their money into, there was one thing they fell in love with.”

Investment companies fell in love with securitizing mortgages, bundling them into enormous pools – in some cases, pools of as many as 16 million loans — and selling them in shares to investors.  To make the pool of mortgages even larger, they created vehicles like adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs), subprime mortgages and no-income, no-asset loans that allowed people to buy homes or take out home equity loans that they simply could not afford.  Last 02192006_iraglassSeptember, this house of cards came crashing down, setting off the global credit crisis and making an ongoing recession the worst in a generation.

Click here  to listen to the full “The Giant Pool of Money” podcast from “This American Life” to learn exactly what happened and why.  I know of no better description of how the recession happened.

There’s Method in Warren Buffett’s Madness

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Warren Buffett’s loyal followers are wondering what got into the Oracle of Omaha6a00d834a6138369e200e54f0aa7a68833-500wi when he told CNBC  that this is “a great time to be in banking“, praised Wells Fargo’s massive earning power, and said that the government doesn’t need to provide capital to or nationalize banks.

Although some critics dismissed Buffett’s statements as biased because he owns large stakes in Wells Fargo and U.S. Bancorp, he may be dead right.

Buffett was talking about lending, and it’s the “spread” that counts – the difference between the interest rates banks charge for the loans they make and the rate they pay to borrow that money.  When the Federal Reserve makes deep interest rate cuts, spreads widen and loans become more profitable.  The Fed funds rate is so low right now that Wells Fargo is borrowing cheaply and profiting handsomely on the loans it makes.

Although banks do need to recapitalize, they currently are saving money by cutting dividends paid to investors.  Every dollar they make goes into recapitalization.  With stricter government oversight, banks are required to operate more efficiently.  The irony is that these conditions are almost identical to what helped the nation recover from its last banking crisis during the 1990 – 1991 recession.  In fact, the banks 19 years ago were in worse shape than they are today; yet they were not nationalized or put into receivership.  Once the Fed cut interest rates, banks’ lending policies became more conservative, and they eventually recovered.  The same scenario could play out this time around.