Troubled banks rise to highest level in 18 years
FEBRUARY 24, 2011
AP) The number of banks at risk of failing made up
nearly 12 percent of all federally insured banks in the
final three months of 2010, the highest level in 18 years.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp said Wednesday that
the number of banks on its confidential "problem" list rose
to 884 in the October-December quarter, up from 860 in
the previous quarter. Those are banks rated by examiners
as having very low capital cushions against risk.
Twenty-two banks have failed so far this year.
And more banks are at risk, even as reported the industry's
highest earnings as a group since the financial crisis hit
three years ago.
Only a small fraction of the 7,657 federally insured banks
about 1.4 percent with assets of more than $10 billion are
driving the bulk of the earnings growth. They are the
largest banks, including Bank of America Corp.,
Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and
Wells Fargo & Co.
The big banks accounted for about $20.6 billion of the
industry earnings of $21.7 billion in the fourth quarter.
The total earnings compared with a net loss of $1.8
billion in the same quarter of 2009. The agency said bank
earnings were buoyed in the latest quarter by reduced
charges for soured loans.
Most of the big banks have recovered with help from federal
bailout money and record-low borrowing rates. On the
other side, many smaller banks are struggling.
Last year, 157 U.S. banks were brought down by the soured
economy and mounting loan defaults. That was the most in
one year since 1992, the height of the savings and loan crisis.
They were mostly smaller or regional banks. The failures
compare with 25 in 2008 and three in 2007. They cost the
federal deposit insurance fund an estimated $21 billion in 2010.
Smaller and regional banks depend heavily on making loans
for commercial property and development sectors that have
suffered huge losses. Companies shut down in the recession,
vacating shopping malls and office buildings financed
by the loans.
Overall, banks' net income reached a three-year high of $87.5
billion in the October-December quarter. That contrasted with
a loss of $10.6 billion in 2009. But Bair said banks need to
lend more vigorously as the economy recovers.
Bank industry revenue remained fairly strong through the
financial crisis, FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair noted, but
there is little "upward momentum."
"A key reason why revenues haven't grown faster is that
loans have not been growing," Bair said at a news
conference. "It's not going as at fast a pace as I would
like to see."
The problem is partly due to continued uncertainty
about the economy on the part of bankers, Bair said.
But she added: "I also think that banks need to get
back to the basics of making loans."
Loan balances declined at a majority of U.S. banks in the
October-December quarter, falling by $51.8 billion, or
0.4 percent, from the July-September quarter.
A change reported Monday by Bank of America
for results from its FIA Card Services subsidiary
for 2009 and 2010 caused the FDIC to significantly
revise its industry earnings for the three past quarters.
For the January-March quarter of 2009, industry
net income was revised to a $6.5 billion net loss
from the previously reported $7.6 billion profit.
The net loss in the April-June quarter of 2009 widened
to $12.7 billion from $3.7 billion, and net income in the
July-September quarter of 2010 increased to $24.7
billion from $14.5 billion.
The FDIC's deposit insurance fund, which fell into
the red in 2009, posted a slight improvement in the
October-December quarter. Its deficit narrowed to
$7.4 billion from $8 billion in the third quarter.
Bair said the agency expects the balance to turn
positive this year.
The spate of bank failures that began to accelerate in
2008 are expected to cost the insurance fund about
$100 billion through 2013.
The FDIC is backed by the government, and deposits
are guaranteed up to $250,000 per account. Also, the
agency still has tens of billions in loss reserves apart
from the insurance fund.