WASHINGTON — Despite a host of programs introduced by policymakers to unclog funding markets, a Federal Reserve Board survey released Monday found virtually no signs that bankers are loosening their grip on lending.
Instead, the periodic survey of 55 senior loan officers at domestic banks found no institutions were willing to ease standards on commercial real estate, commercial and industrial, and most residential loans.
The survey also confirmed that the clamping down that began this year in mortgages has spread to credit cards. A quarter of the bankers surveyed said they lowered credit limits slightly for prime borrowers, and 61.5% slashed limits for those considered nonprime.
In many instances, the bankers said their decision had little connection to a cardholder's financial health. Only 26.7% of the respondents who cut limits cited a declining credit score. The same percentage of bankers cited missed payments on other loans, and a third cited unpaid credit card bills.
In comparison, more than two-thirds of bankers who lowered credit limits said the uncertain economic outlook played a role; 37.5% who did so cited a "reduced tolerance for risk."
The situation was no better in other sectors. More than 69% of bankers said they stiffened standards somewhat for C&I loans to large and middle-market firms; another 14.5% said the tightening was considerable. Most of the bankers — 94.6% — said they are doing so by raising the cost of credit lines. And 87.3% said they were charging higher premiums on riskier loans.
Nearly two-thirds of the respondents said they were containing C&I lending because of negative expectations of the economy. Only 11.5% of the bankers said they were tightening because of concerns about their own liquidity position.
In response to a special question the Fed tacked on to the survey, more than 47% of the bankers said the dollar amount of outstanding C&I loans drawn under preexisting commitments increased, while 43.6% said the level was unchanged.
More than 42% said the dollar amount of outstanding C&I loans that were not drawn under preexisting commitments had increased, and 44.4% reported no change.
Despite the pullback in C&I lending, demand for the loans was somewhat scattered. More than 27% of the bankers reported stronger demand from large and middle-market firms, while 44% reported weaker interest.
Almost three-quarters of those finding higher demand attributed the rise to borrowing that shifted to their bank from other institutions "because these other sources became less attractive."
Many of the bankers who reported a decline in demand said it was because either investment in equipment dropped (37.5%) or the need for merger or acquisition financing was lower (33.3%).
In addition, 87% of the bankers said they tightened credit standards for applicants seeking commercial real estate loans. More than 40% of those respondents said the standards were "considerably" tighter.
Demand for these loans weakened in recent months. Two-thirds of the bankers said interest in commercial real estate loans was off, and only 11.1% said demand was higher.
Bankers remained particularly pessimistic about home loans. Credit standards on mortgages to prime borrowers tightened over the late summer and fall, according to 71.1% of the bankers.
Only 1.9% of the respondents said they had eased credit standards on prime borrowers.
The tightening was especially tough for nontraditional borrowers. Nearly 90% of the bankers said they were toughening their credit standards for these customers. Only four bankers who responded to the survey said they are still making loans categorized as subprime, and all four said their standards had tightened "considerably."
Demand was weaker across the board. More than 72% of the respondents said interest in nontraditional residential mortgages was lower, and 57.7% of bankers said demand was off for prime loans.
The story is much the same for several other types of loans. Nearly 79% of the bankers said credit standards have become tougher for home equity lines of credit. These lines have taken a hit in the past year as home prices have deteriorated.
More than 42% of the bankers said demand for the lines had decreased. Over 47% of the respondents said they were less willing to make consumer installment loans than they were in July. Not a single banker reported increased willingness to make this type of loan.
Credit standards for these products were tighter, according to 64.2% of the bankers.
The majority of respondents who clamped down on installment loans — 60.6% — said they had done so by restricting credit limits. Nearly 56% of the bankers said demand for these loans were lower.
The Fed takes a poll of contacts at domestic banks roughly every three months. It uses the information to draw a larger picture of the economic situation and the health of the banking system.