WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve Board's most recent economic report Wednesday painted a less-than-consistent picture of credit demands by U.S. consumers and businesses.
"The direction and magnitude of changes in loan demand varied among the Districts and also with respect to type of loan," the central bank said in the Beige Book, a survey of economic conditions in the Fed's 12 regional areas.
For example, the Kansas City district reported stable demand for commercial and industrial loans and commercial real estate loans, while bankers in Dallas cited softer demand for loans overall. Other districts like San Francisco saw their demand weaken slightly, while the New York and Philadelphia regions observed growth in most lending categories.
Bankers in the New York region said they saw an increase in loan demand, no change in credit standards and a further decline in delinquency rates.
"Small- to medium-sized banks in the District report a noticeable pickup in overall loan demand," the report said. That was particularly true for both residential and commercial mortgage loans, bankers noted.
Lending volumes in the Philadelphia district also continued to grow steadily and credit quality there improved as well. "Contacts from the … [district's] financial sector have reported ongoing growth since the previous Beige Book," the Fed said. (The report is published eight times a year.)
Mortgages, personal loans, small business loans, and C&I loans were among the stronger growth areas for large-sized lenders, while smaller lenders continued to report gains of market share in a variety of categories of lending.
Bankers said the financial health of households, businesses and financial institutions continues to improve, but they still expressed concern about the future.
"Although the overall outlook among lenders was positive, there is an expectation of tempered growth until after the election, and there are concerns about the impacts of the fiscal decisions that will follow," the report said.
Elsewhere in the country, improvement was more subdued. In Cleveland, bankers said they only saw a modest increase in credit demand by business. They also reported little change in consumer credit, although automobile lending was one bright spot.
"Several bankers expressed concern about the low interest rate environment and compliance costs related to new regulations and their effect on profitability," the report said.
Still, other parts of the country, like the Richmond district, seemed to do no better or worse than in the previous report.
"Banking activity was little changed from the weak, but somewhat mixed conditions that prevailed in our last report," the survey said. "Most bankers said that very few new loans were made recently and the number of loans in the pipeline was shrinking."
The one silver lining was borrowers seeking to refinance their homes. Some also saw businesses fleeing banks they had loans with for those with better terms.
Yet lending activity varied within the Richmond district. One banker from Maryland cited an increase in small business loans, while others in the state said applications did not appear to meet lending standards. Similar disparity was seen in West Virginia, where one lending officer pointed to a slowdown in industrial loans due to rising economic uncertainty, while another noted strength due to the state's energy sector.
In Atlanta, however, demand for loans continued to remain weak, despite some pickup in home purchases and auto lending.
"Banking contacts continued to note margin and profit pressures," the report said. "Competition among banks and credit unions for high-quality loans remained intense, further driving down margins."
In the Chicago district, bankers reported that credit spreads and volatility were easing. They also noted that increased competition had led to downward pricing pressure on small business loans.
Demand for business loans mostly came from small and middle market firms with the intent of refinancing existing debt as opposed to financing capital expenditures.
However, in the St. Louis district, lending activity remained steady with only moderate changes from the prior period.
"During this period, credit standards for commercial and industrial loans remained largely unchanged, while demand for such loans increased moderately," the report said.
Credit standards for commercial real estate loans and prime mortgages remained unchanged, while demand for both grew moderately stronger.
In the Kansas City district, the majority of bankers reported that loan quality had improved from a year earlier, and nearly all banks anticipated loan quality will remain steady or improve over the next six months. Those surveyed also noted slightly higher loan demand for commercial and industrial loans, commercial real estate loans and consumer installment loans.
Dallas reported "softening loan demand" with corporate lending activity remaining weak. Demand for residential real estate loans, on the other hand, rose strongly. Bankers in Dallas said their outlook was "positive," according to the survey. "But contacts expressed concern about European debt issues, new regulations for community banks and the upcoming national elections."
In San Francisco, loan demand overall was unchanged or slightly weaker from the previous period.
"Business loan demand appeared to drop a bit, amid growing reluctance by many firms to commit to expansion plans under current economic conditions," the survey said.