WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration, showing renewed anxiety about the credit crunch and the slow pace of economic recovery, unveiled a series of measures yesterday designed to spur lending by commercial banks and thrifts.
The measures, to be implemented by the Federal Reserve and other bank regulatory agencies, focus on bank examination procedures, capital standards, and other technical requirements for lenders.
But they do not include any appeals for lower interest rates.
Both short-term and long-term interest rates have fallen dramatically since July 1990, when Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan first raised the credit crunch issue in public.
President Bush acknowledged the downturn in rates yesterday, noting that mortgage interest rates are at their Lowest level since 1977.
At the same time, the President and his advisers now admit the recovery is not proceeding as robustly as they would like, and they have identified the credit crunch as one of the man impediments to keeping the recovery alive.
"It's a slow recovery, I think everyone acknowledges that," White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater told reporters yesterday, "and we want to do all we can to try to nurture it along."
The new steps to ease the credit crunch followed a meetin yesterday of the cabinet-level Economic Policy Council, the third such gathering in the last month. Mr. Greenspan attended the second meeting of the council, held on Sept. 27, at the invitation of President Bush.
Earlier this week, the President held a cabinet meeting to review the economy, and he also sought the advice of 10 private business leaders. Included in the meeting was Robert Giordano, chief economist for Goldman Sachs & Co.
The new measures expand on a series of steps unveiled March 1 by the Fed, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Office of Thrift Supervision to encourage bank lending. Perhaps the most important step will expand the amount of preferred stock that banks may count as capital, bringing U.S. standards in line with those of international capital standards set by the United States and the other major industrial nations in Basle, Switzerland. By making it easier for banks to raise capital, institutions should be more willing to step up lending, Treasury officials said.
Treasury officials also said they, hope to have the new rule change in place by Oct. 31.
The Treasury also announced a series of measures designed to build banker confidence, including procedures that will permit bankers to appeal bank examiner's rulings directly to top federal officials. Many banks have complained that the appeals procedures discouraged complaints from bank officials fearful of retaliation. John Robson, deputy Treasury secretary, told reporters.
The Treasury said regional federal regulators will be required to clarify the March 1 guidelines and policy announcements, which in some cases were not working. Among other things, the guidelines encourage banks to work with borrowers experiencing "temporary difficulties," and not to be too rigid in evaluating loan requests from commercial builders.
In addition, bank and thrift regulatory agencies will release a uniform and comprehensive set of guildelines for valuing real estate properties by Oct. 31, Mr. Robson said. The guidelines will be distributed to all examiners and bankers.
Mr. Robson also said regulators are being encouraged to curb appraisals on small properties, which add to bank operating costs, and said agencies will establish random audits for quality control.
Despite the ongoing problem of the credit crunch, President Bush asserted that the recovery continues. "There are many signs that the economy is emerging from the recession," he said in a statement.
He cited increases in housing starts and industrial production and noted that the unemployment rate in September slipped to 6.7% from 6.8% in August. In addition, he said, the index of leading economic indicators "has been steady or increasing for seven straight months."
But credit is crucial to sustaining the recovery, especially for small businesses that cannot raise capital in the stock and bond markets, President Bush said. "Ensuring sound credit for economic expansion which creates new jobs is important."