WASHINGTON — Hurricane Sandy's impact on the banking system appears to be relatively light, though the full damage toll is not yet clear, according to a report released Wednesday by the Federal Reserve Board.
In its periodic economic survey known as the Beige Book, the Fed asked bankers in the New York district whether they had seen a significant impact on their business as a result of the October storm. Half said they hadn't, though many hastened to add that "the effects of the storm could become evident in the future, especially for commercial businesses and as damage to collateral is assessed."
Banks in the most severely affected areas of New Jersey, as well as lower Manhattan and Queens received a "high volume of calls" from customers with home damage and banks are now inspecting the buildings before issuing new loans.
In the Philadelphia Fed district, power outages from Hurricane Sandy caused widespread bank and ATM closings, but few long-term disruptions, according to the survey.
"While credit quality continued to improve, contacts suggest that the storm impacts may create a surge in cash flow borrowing and an increase in delinquencies, especially for New Jersey businesses and homeowners," the Beige Book said. "Lenders maintain a positive outlook."
Overall, bankers saw varied demand for different types of lending during the past six weeks, most notably on auto loans and home mortgages.
"Loan demand generally was either mixed or slightly stronger across most districts in recent weeks," the Fed said.
Bankers in the New York Fed's district, for example, reported "weaker demand for consumer and especially commercial and industrial loans, but steady demand for commercial and residential mortgages. Bankers report increased demand for refinancing."
Financial firms in the Philadelphia district reported continued growth with a slight improvement from the last survey, despite some customers taking a "wait-and-see" approach as they hold off on any decisions until the government takes further action on the fiscal cliff.
The districts of Cleveland, Atlanta, and Kansas City also reported "moderate increases" in loan demand.
For example, in Atlanta, small business loan demand increased slightly in some areas, but many companies remained cautious in borrowing citing "economic and political uncertainty."
In Cleveland, demand for business credit improved since the last survey with many new applications for refinancings.
Like New York, the Richmond and Dallas districts also reported mixed results since the last survey in October.
In Richmond, an official from a large bank said business borrowing had "softened" over the last six weeks, while demand for home loans advanced. Several loan officers also noted that demand for auto loans served as an exception to the weak demand by consumers.
"Overall loan demand strengthened, according to a northern Virginia banker, mostly for auto loans, home mortgage refinancing, and equipment purchases," according to the survey.
Bankers in Dallas, however, reported weaker demand for auto loans, while mortgages and energy-related lending increased.
For its part, bankers in the San Francisco district said lending activity remained unchanged.
"Business loan demand was characterized as weak to moderate," according to the survey. "Firms in most sectors remain uncertain about near-term prospects for their revenues and costs; hence, they are reluctant to make new capital investments other than those that directly enhance business efficiency and pay returns within a short time frame."