WASHINGTON — Though the government has allocated almost $400 billion to attempt to resuscitate bank lending, a survey released Monday by the Federal Reserve Board made clear that bankers are tightening credit standards across the board.
The periodic survey of 53 loan officers at domestic banks found tighter standards in most areas of lending, including consumer and commercial and residential real estate loans. The bankers approving loans typically made them more costly and restrictive.
The results come as Congress and the Obama administration attempt to tackle the frozen credit markets — and reduced lending — through an economic stimulus package and a possible expansion of the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
More than 79% of the respondents said they tightened standards for approving commercial real estate loans during the past three months. Not a single banker said they had eased requirements during that period.
The clampdown often came in the form of wider spreads of loan rates over the bank's cost of funds, according to 96.2% of the bankers. Nearly 79% said they also toughened required loan-to-value ratios, and 63.4% reported lowering the maximum size of a loan they would approve.
In response to a special question the Fed tacked on to the survey, nearly a quarter of the respondents said the slowdown in issuance of commercial mortgage-backed securities led to an increase in the volume of commercial real estate lending at their bank, meaning some institutions have essentially filled the gap left by the souring securitization market.
Requirements were also more strenuous for commercial and industrial lending, where 64.1% of the bankers said they tightened standards for large and middle-market firms. The Fed specifically told bankers to exclude financing for mergers and acquisitions from their responses so the results do not reflect the pharmaceutical firm Pfizer Inc.'s deal last month to acquire Wyeth for $68 billion.
Nearly 87% of the respondents said they tightened lending to large and midsize firms by raising premiums on loans with perceived risk. More than 92% of the bankers said they widened spreads on their commercial and industrial loans, and almost 85% reported raising the cost of credit lines.
Most of the respondents — 71.4% — said they were hardening their standards because of the economic outlook. An almost equal number (73.5%) insisted the restrictions had nothing to do with deterioration in their bank's current or expected capital position.
The situation was much the same for residential real estate lending. More than 47% of the respondents said they tightened credit standards on prime residential mortgages, while 48% reported strengthening requirements for nontraditional mortgages.
(Twenty-six respondents said their bank does not originate nontraditional products.)
Only four respondents said they continued to make subprime loans — two said they tightened standards, and the other two said requirements "remained basically unchanged."
Demand for prime home mortgages was mixed: 41.2% of bankers said interest was off, 31.4% said it was up, and 27.5% said it was unchanged from October.
Bankers have also become more selective in approving applications for revolving home equity lines of credit. More than 57% of the respondents said requirements for these loans tightened.
Restraint was also evident in the sector for consumer installment loans, which 20% of the bankers said they were less willing to make. Nearly 59% said their standards to approve credit card applications were harsher; 58% said the same about applications for consumer credit other than credit cards.
Almost 47% of the respondents said they have tightened credit limits in the past three months while 46.9% said they increased minimum required credit scores.
Responding to another special question, 42% of the bankers said they made smaller home equity loans during the past three months, and 30.8% said they curtailed business credit card accounts. More than 63% said they cut commercial construction lines of credit. More than half of the respondents (51.2%) said lines were also slashed for financial firms.