WASHINGTON — Federal regulators warned Tuesday that banks risk repeating an old sin by becoming too dependent on commercial real estate loans in metropolitan markets on the verge of overdevelopment.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s latest Regional Outlook, a quarterly analysis of regional economic trends that could affect the banking industry, reported that banks and thrift lending to commercial developers surged 27% in 1999. That followed a 21% jump in 1998.

As a result, concentration in such lending is getting too high, the agency said. It is concerned about a repeat of the last real estate crisis, which contributed to many bank failures in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The FDIC focused on community banks, which are more susceptible to local economic fluctuations. Commercial loans as a percentage of assets at banks with less than $1 billion of assets exceed the levels of 1988, before the last real estate boom collapsed, the agency said.

Community banks in Salt Lake City and Atlanta lead the country in concentration of assets in commercial real estate loans, at 16.7% and 13.8% respectively. The national average is slightly more than 2%.

“Our experience in the last real estate crisis showed that a lot of these loans are very expensive,” said Richard A. Brown, chief of economic and market trends for the FDIC’s division of insurance. “It doesn’t take too many of these loans going bad to add up to a big problem.”

Indeed, the agency said that 13 cities are in danger of becoming overbuilt. It added Denver; Fort Worth; Jacksonville, Fla.; Sacramento, Calif.; and Seattle to the list, while retaining Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Dallas; Las Vegas; Orlando; Phoenix; Portland, Ore.; and Salt Lake City.

“Overbuilding is one of the yellow caution lights in the economy and the banking industry that we are watching closely, and it is a caution light that is flashing more brightly,” FDIC Chairman Donna Tanoue said in a statement. ”


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