WASHINGTON - Federal regulators and analysts on Tuesday derided suggestions that bank failures will cause unexpectedly large losses for the government after the election.
That possibility has gained widespread attention in the last two weeks, culminating Monday night when it was raised at the presidential debate. (See text on page 10.)
The notion has been fueled in part by a controversial new study that concluded as many as 1,000 banks would be insolvent if their assets were marked to market value. The study said rescuing those institutions could cost the government $75 billion - far more than other estimates for expected failures.
Thrift Debacle Revisited?
A Washington Post columnist, referring to the study, wrote that the next President "will have to face the inevitability of a commercial bank bailout of a magnitude rivaling the S&L mess."
At the debate, President Bush and Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas both said the banking industry was facing problems, but firmly rejected any comparisons between the thrift crisis and pending losses at banks.
Ross Perot, however, asserted that the thrift crisis was concealed until after the 1988 election and wondered whether government officials might be doing the same thing with banks this year.
Regulators and some industry analysts on Tuesday sided with President Bush and Gov. Clinton.
"The idea there is some big surprise coming is ludicrous," said Timothy Ryan, director of the Office of Thrift Supervision and a member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. board.
"There are problems, but not of the magnitude that everyone's been talking about," said analyst Bert Ely, who gained fame by accurately predicting the size of the thrift crisis.
A dissenting view was lodged by House Banking Committee Chairman Henry B. Gonzalez. In a written statement Tuesday, he charged that President Bush and Gov. Clinton "trivialized the banking crisis by saying it, does not exist."
The Texas Democrat said he finds it hard to believe there will not be a taxpayer bailout of the Bank Insurance Fund, adding: "I'm shocked and dismayed at the continued attempts to cater to the banking interests and against the best interests of the American people."
Pending Regulation a Factor
Some of the speculation about a rash of impending failures stems from a new regulation, effective Dec. 19, which requires regulators to start taking action against banks that have tangible capital equal to less than 2% of assets. Previously, regulators have not generally closed under-capitalized banks until they became insolvent.
This has fueled talk of a December surprise - lots of failures just after the election. But many experts say Dec. 19 may come and go with little fanfare.
Here's why: The new rule permits regulators to give banks 90 days to raise capital, instead of shutting them down immediately. What's more, two additional 90-day extensions can be granted.
As a result, some banks may be able to work their way out of trouble. And even if banks are shut down, the process will occur over a long period of time. FDIC officials estimate that about 60 to 80 banks with $27 billion to $30 billion in assets will fall under the 2% level and be closed. Another 200 or so banks with about $70 billion in assets are hovering in the danger zone - meaning they have tangible equity levels between 2% and 4%.
The Office of Thrift Supervision is closely monitoring 105 S&Ls, but only about 28 with total assets of $27 billion currently have tangible equity ratios below 2%, said Mr. Ryan.
Those projections are not much higher than the bank failure rate over the last few years and pale in comparison with the size of thrift failures.
So far this year, 84 FDIC-insured banks with $27.8 billion in assets were closed. In 1991, 124 banks with $64 billion in assets failed. Between 1988 and 1990, annual failures ranged from 168 to 206, with total assets of $15.7 billion to $36 billion.
By comparison, 857 thrifts with total assets of $335 billion have been seized since 1988.
Nonetheless, the recent publicity of imminent failures has caused regulators and legislator to revisit the issue.
Congress has scheduled hearing next Monday to examine the health of the banking industry.
And the bank regulators are reviewing some of the recent studies predicting trouble in the industry. Among them: "Banking on the Brink," the study that concluded as many as 1,000 banks could be considered insolvent. The study was conducted by Roger J. Vaughan and Edward W. Hill, and alluded to by Mr. Perot in the debate.
The authors say that current accounting rules mask the extent of the problems in the banking industry, making many banks look healthier than they really are.
They take issue with those who say no bank crisis lies ahead, but are happy to see the issue get more attention.
"We're gratified that the issue has surfaced,,said Mr. Hill.
But the report has been widely criticized by regulators and industry analysts.
"My sense is it is another example of one or two guys with a PC loading inappropriate numbers," said OTS Director Ryan. "They are wrong."
No Surprises Foreseen
Said bank analyst Bert Ely of the December surprise, "This thing is so overblown its incredible. First of all there is no surprise. This stuff was enacted a year ago. Second, at least with regard to commercial banks, it is not going to affect that many institutions."
Mr. Ely estimates that, at most, about 60 commercial institutions with $12 billion in assets will fall below the 2% level. This represents one-third of 1% of all commercial bank assets. Most of these banks are small, he says, and scattered throughout the country.
James J. McDermott Jr., president of Keefe Bruyette & Woods Inc., estimates that under the new prompt-corrective action rule, 123 banks and thrifts with assets of $78 billion could be closed.
Text of the Candidates' Give and Take on Banking Issues
Q.: Governor. an important aspect of leadership is of course anticipating problems. During the 1988 campaign there was little or no mention of the savings and loan crisis that has cost the American people billions and billions of dollars. Now there are rumblings that a commercial-bank crisis is on the horizon. Is there such a problem, sir? If so, how bad is it and what will it cost to clean it up?
GOV. CLINTON: There is a problem in the sense that there are some problem banks and on Dec. 19 regulations will go into effect which will, in effect, give the Government the responsibility to close some banks that are not technically insolvent, but that are plainly in trouble.
On the other hand, I don't think that we have any reason to believe that the dimensions of this crisis are anywhere near as great as the savings and loan crisis. The mistake that both parties made in Washington with the S&L business was deregulating them without proper capital requirements, proper oversight and regulation, proper training of the executives. Many people predicted what happened and it was a disaster.
Industry Should Pay
The banking system in this country is fundamentally sound with some weak banks. I think that our goal ought to be first of all not to politicize it, not to frighten people.
Secondly, to say that we have to enforce the law in two ways. We don't want to overreact as - as the Federal regulations have in my judgement, on good banks so that they've created credit crunches that has - that have made our recession worse in the last couple of years.
But we do want to act prudently with the banks that are in trouble. We also want to say that insofar as is humanly possible, the banking industry itself should pay for the cost of any bank failures, the taxpayers should not.
And that will be my policy and I believe we have a good balanced approach. We can get the good banks loaning money again, end the credit crunch, have proper regulation on the ones that are in trouble. And not overreact. It is a serious problem, but I don't see it as the kind of terrible, terrible problem that the S&L problem was.
Q.: President Bush, one minutes.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I don't - I don't believe it would be appropriate for a President to suggest that the banking system is not sound. It is sound. There are some problem banks out there. But what need is financial reform. We need some financial reform - banking reform legislation.
And I have proposed that and when I am reelected I believe the first - one of the first things ought to be to press a new Congress, not beholden to the old ways, to pass financial reform legislation that modernizes the banking system, doesn't put a lot of inhibitors on it and protects the depositors through on it and prospects the depositors through keeping the FDIC sound, but I - I think that - that - I just was watching some of the proceedings of the American Bankers Association, and I think the general feeling is most of the banks are sound.
Certainly there's no comparison here between what happened to the S&L's and where the banks stand right now. In my view.
Q.: Mr. Perot one minute
MR. PEROT: Well, nobody's gotten into the real issue yet on the savings and loan. Again nobody's got a business background, I guess/ The whole problem came up in 1984. The President of the United States was told officially it was a $20 billion problem.
These crooks - now Willie Sutton would have gone to own a savings and loan rather than rob banks because you - he robbed banks because that's where the money is - only the saving and loan is where the money was. Yeah.
In 1984, they were told. I believe the Vice President was in change of deregulation. Nobody touched that tar baby till the day after elections in 1988 because they were flooding both parties with crooked PAC money and it was in many cases, stolen PAC money.
|Just Tell Me Now'
Now you and I never got a ride on a lot of these yachts fancy things it bought, but you and I are paying for it. And they buried it till right after the election. Now if you believe The Washington Post and you believe this extensive study that's been done - and I'm reading - right after election day this year they're going to bit us with 100 banks - it'll be a $100 billion problem.
Now if that's true, just tell me now. Yeah, I'm grown up, I can deal with it, I'll pay my share. But just tell me now. Don't bury it until after the election twice. I say that to both political parties. The people deserve that since we have to pick up the tab. You got the PAC money, we'll pay the tab. Just tell us.