Asia's financial meltdown is slowly affecting Asia-connected community banks in California, according to a survey by the state bankers association.
One-third of the Asian- and Asian-American-owned banks surveyed by the California Bankers Association reported that deposits had fallen since the crisis began last fall.
Some customers are said to be moving money into what seem like bargain investments in Asian banks, stocks, and real estate.
The association surveyed 29 banks with $11.5 billion of combined assets. Of the 18 that responded, 44% said they expected the crisis to have a "somewhat negative" impact on them for at least the next six months.
But the overall reaction seems modest. Sixty-one percent said Asia's problems have had "no impact" at home, 40% said it would have none in the future.
In fact, 17% predicted a rise in business if the crisis continues.
"In the last month or so we've seem some withdrawals from depositors who have transferred their money to Korea for investment," said Benjamin Hong, president and chief executive officer at $160 million-asset Nara Bank, which caters mainly to Los Angeles' Korean community.
Mr. Hong pegged Nara's deposit loss at about 5%, not enough to worry officers or shareholders.
But given the overseas uncertainties, he said, there is no telling how long the trend would continue.
California's economy is closely tied with Asian trade. The community banks may not bear the brunt of the problems however, because their local economies are still humming.
"The community banks are thankfully not big enough" to make loans to large Asian companies, said Michael Tun Zan, president of Pacific Bank in San Francisco.
"For many banks, this is a nonevent," said Larry D. Kurmel, executive director of the California Bankers Association.
Yet there are concerns. One-third of those surveyed have already curtailed financing exports to Asia out of fear that the buyers will be unable to pay their U.S. suppliers, and about 40% anticipated making fewer export loans in the future.
Still, with prices on Asian goods falling, the future appears bright for importers and those who finance them. A third of the surveyed banks have already increased import financing activity, and 67% say they will do so in the future.
Opportunity may also exist in lending money to cash-strapped Asian companies with U.S. holdings.
Many Korean companies, for example, own U.S. real estate. In need of working capital, business owners may turn to community banks to borrow against those assets, Mr. Tun Zan said.