According to government statistics, Georgia is in the clutches of a banking crisis, while neighboring North Carolina in enjoying one of the biggest booms in history.
In reality, banks in both states are enjoying steady growth.
The faulty statistics are a product of interstate branching. Now that banks may branch freely nationwide, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is crediting the home state for all profits, loans, and deposits of banks with interstate operations.
On paper, the results of this accounting are startling. FDIC data show Georgia banks lost $77 billion of assets during the 12 months ending June 30. North Carolina, however, has seen commercial bank assets nearly double, to $162 billion.
Also suffering huge losses-at least on paper-are Maryland, Florida, Washington, and New Jersey, which have seen assets fall by a combined $130 billion over the period.
The way the FDIC is reporting these data angers some industry officials. "It makes it look like there isn't as much here as there really is," said Kenneth R. Smith, a spokesman for the Maryland Bankers Association.
Joe Brannen, president of the Georgia Bankers Association, asked FDIC acting Chairman Andrew C. Hove Jr. in late October to change the way his agency compiles state-level data because reporters, legislators, and developers might not understand the explanation for the unflattering numbers.
"Those deposits and those loans and those employees are here in Georgia," he said of the statistics now attributed to North Carolina.
FDIC officials agreed that the information is deceptive and said they want to fix it so they can have a more accurate measure of assets and deposits in each state.
"We are looking at it," said William R. Watson, the FDIC's research director, but "we don't have any solutions that would not put a sizable burden on the banking industry."
And banks apparently aren't willing to pay for more accurate data. "If it is going to create an unreasonable regulatory burden on the industry to collect the data, we can certainly live without it," Mr. Smith said.
Statistical sampling and using computers to pull information electronically from bank files are among the least onerous options being considered by the FDIC, Mr. Watson said.
Glen Barton, senior vice president of the Florida Bankers Association, said his group spends more than $50,000 annually to collect its own loan and deposit information.
"Our data, quite frankly, we feel is better," he said.
Many regional banks have moved in the past two years to take advantage of the 1994 interstate branching law and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency's 30-mile rule. Both have allowed consolidation of banks chartered in multiple states into a single institution.
Some of the more aggressive users of this authority have been North Carolina-based First Union Corp., NationsBank Corp., and Wachovia Corp., which have merged bank subsidiaries in the Southeast and Midwest into their home-state institutions during the past year.