Big Surprise - Lending by the Banks That Received TARP Decreased in February
Lending by the larger banks that received TARP money is actually declining. This should come as a big surprise. Banks are under a lot of pressure to both lend and improve their capital positions. The only way to improve their capital position is to turn a quarterly profit which increases retained earnings. Furthermore, why lend in a bad ieconomy with increasing unemployment. Text in bold is my emphasis. From the WSJ:
The largest bank recipients of U.S. government aid are offering less credit to businesses and consumers, the Treasury Department said Wednesday, reflecting and exacerbating the tenuous state of the current economic environment.
In a monthly snapshot of lending by the 21 largest banks receiving Troubled Asset Relief Program funds, the Treasury said credit being offered fell 2.2% across all commercial-lending and consumer-lending categories in February, compared with the prior month.
Particularly problematic: continued deterioration in commercial real estate and general business lending, as well as the credit being made available for student and auto loans.
The lone bright spot remained home loans, with consumers eager to take advantage of record-low interest rates to refinance their mortgages.
The Treasury said 16 of the 18 banks surveyed increased mortgage originations in February, resulting in a 35% increase in mortgage lending from January levels.
The February decline in lending adds to pressure on the Obama administration's efforts to restart the still-fragile credit markets.
The Treasury has committed $95 billion in TARP funds for new programs to boost consumer and business lending, though they are either just getting started or are still in the development phase.
The report suggests that jawboning by federal officials for banks to use TARP funds to boost lending is having a limited effect.
The Treasury blamed the decrease on the broader economic weakness, including low consumer confidence, high unemployment and a decrease in U.S. exports.
It also said lending would have been lower absent the nearly $200 billion in capital injections the government has provided to about 550 banks.
Banks' diminished appetites for lending are forcing businesses and consumers alike to curb their spending, which risks prolonging the U.S. economic recession.
Dan Carl, who owns a handful of businesses including several car dealerships in Michigan, said Fifth Third Bancorp, Cincinnati, refused to renew some of his company's credit lines when they came due earlier this month. On other loans, Fifth Third raised interest rates and demanded Mr. Carl's firm put up additional collateral.
The lack of affordable credit was one factor prompting Mr. Carl's company to recently lay off 20% of the work force and close at least one dealership.
Lenders such as Fifth Third are punishing "the good customers to make up for the banks' mistakes," he said.
Fifth Third received $3.45 billion through TARP.
It made $634 million of new commercial and industrial loans in February, down from $785 million in January and $1.3 billion in December, according to the bank's filing with the Treasury Department.
"Demand for Small Business credit is still relatively stable but showing signs of weakening as application volume is starting to slow," Fifth Third said in its filing.
Fifth Third spokeswoman Stephanie Honan said the bank won't comment on specific customers.
In reviewing loans, she said, Fifth Third considers overall economic conditions and "any changes to the customer's business environment."
Overall, she said, the bank tries "to balance our commitment to our customers with safe and responsible lending practices."
The banking industry's lending pullback was particularly severe with consumer credit.
In February, according to the Treasury report, originations of new U.S. credit-card accounts fell 2.7%.
That number likely understates the magnitude of the retrenchment. Many banks have been slashing borrowing limits on cards, especially for customers who rarely approach their limits.
By reducing the credit lines, the banks can free up space on their balance sheets. But the move risks infuriating consumers.
Bank of America Corp., which received $45 billion through TARP and has the industry's largest U.S. card portfolio, said in its submission to the Treasury that credit-card loan balances and new account originations declined in February "due to continued reduction of exposure on long term inactive customers and line reductions on high risk accounts."
Bank of America recently informed longtime customer James S. Jensen that the interest rate on his credit card would leap into the double-digits, even though he had never been late on a payment.
"I could borrow on the street for less than this," says Mr. Jensen, a 61-year-old vice president at Navistar Truck Group in Warrenville, Ill.
Mr. Jensen says he is canceling his Bank of America card as a result.
Bank of America spokeswoman Betty Riess said the Charlotte, N.C., bank is "taking a more aggressive look at accounts to control risk given the current environment."