WASHINGTON In an analysis of first-quarter moves by 11 of the nations largest banks, Bank One Corp. of Chicago emerges as the most reserved against future loan losses, with $2.45 in reserves for every $100 in loans.
Wells Fargo & Co. of San Francisco ranks second, with a loan-loss ratio of 2.32% as of March 31. FleetBoston Financial Corp. and Unionbancal Corp. also stand out, both with reserve ratios above 2% of total loans.
The average reserve ratio for the 50 largest bank holding companies is 1.79%, according to Federal Reserve Board data. Ratios at the seven other banks covered in the analysis range from 1.79% at Bank of America Corp. in Charlotte, N.C., to 1.39% at National City Corp. in Cleveland.
The analysis of first-quarter results, obtained by American Banker on Wednesday, was compiled by leaders of RMA, the trade association of bank loan and credit officers, who met with federal regulators this week.
We put this table together to share it with the regulators, to show that the industry is indeed taking action in the face of rising loan losses, said RMA spokeswoman Pam Martin. We feel that this data shows that the industry is doing the right thing.
Ms. Martin said the 11 banks were selected mainly because they had reported first-quarter results in time for the analysis to be completed before the groups April 24 meetings at the Federal Reserve Board and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
The OCCs credit czar, David D. Gibbons, agreed with RMA that banks, by and large, are facing up to problem loans.
I feel pretty strongly that the bankers recognize that they have problems, and they are doing a lot to make sure they are identifying them accurately, Mr. Gibbons said.
Regulators are gathering fresh evidence on this front as roughly 750 federal regulators poured into banks this week to start the annual Shared National Credit exam the eight-week inspection of $2 trillion in loans. The examiners will eye roughly 5,800 borrowers that hold some 10,000 loans each of which tops $20 million and is shared by three or more lenders.
Examiners will grade these large credits, selecting those that must be classified as special mention, or a loan with potential weaknesses; substandard, a loan with a well-defined weakness; doubtful, a loan in doubt of full collection; or loss, a loan with an identified amount that is uncollectible.
The results are important because they dictate how closely lenders must watch certain borrowers, how large reserves on their biggest credits must be, and which loans must be written down or off. Occurring at 175 domestic banks as well as foreign bank agencies and branches, the ratings are doled out to the leader of each of these large syndicated loans, but hundreds of participating lenders also must apply the grade to their chunk of the credit.
But the sweeping exam is taking on increasing significance as international capital rules are rewritten to let banks use their risk rating systems to set capital levels. Through the Shared National Credit exam, regulators size up the strength of a banks internal risk management. We examine the system through the credits themselves, Mr. Gibbons said.
After the exams wrap up in mid-June, a second set of regulators will test the results, making sure the judgments were fair and well documented. Banks will get their ratings in early August.
By absolute size of reserves, Bank of America had far and away the most, with $6.83 billion as of March 31. Bank One is second, with $4.2 billion, and Wells Fargo is third, with $3.76 billion. J.P. Morgan Chase is close behind, with $3.67 billion.
RMA also analyzed first-quarter results to see which institutions significantly boosted provisions or the quarterly addition to total reserves.
PNC Financials $80 million first-quarter provision represented a 158% increase, and drove its overall loan-loss reserve to $675 million. Unionbancals $100 million provision was a 150% jump over first quarter 2000 and raised total reserves to $634 million. Doubling its provisions compared to the year-earlier period, Bank of America added $835 million.
Bank of America, the largest bank surveyed by RMA, had the highest level of nonperforming loans, at $5.9 billion, up 69% from the first quarter last year but just 8% from the fourth quarter. Other banks topping $2 billion in troubled loans: Bank One, with $2.67 billion, up 60% on the year and 4% from Dec. 31; and J.P. Morgan Chase at $2.23 billion, up 21% from the first quarter of 2000 and 16% from yearend.
On a percentage basis, the banks with the most asset quality deterioration were Unionbancal, with $439 million of nonperformers, up 199% over the year-earlier period but just 8% from yearend;and Wachovia Corp. of Winston-Salem, N.C., with $410 million, for an 81% rise on the year but down 18% from yearend.
Banks have been acknowledging losses on a steady basis, Ms. Martin of RMA said. There is no denial here. And hopefully if the economy picks up, nonperformers should go down.
Bank of America led the group in chargeoffs during the first quarter, with $772 million, up 84% over the first quarter of last year. In absolute dollars, Bank One and J.P. Morgan Chase ranked second and third in chargeoffs, with $489 million and $447 million, respectively. But as a percentage increase over the first quarter of 2000, Unionbancal and PNC led all banks. Unionbancal, which is mostly owned by Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, charged off $72 million, for a 166% increase over the year-earlier period; PNC charged off $80 million, a 158% increase.
Though loan losses are obviously affecting earnings, Ms. Martin said the industry is well positioned to handle the pain.
Mr. Gibbons agreed, saying deteriorating credit quality mainly affects profits and reserves not an institutions chances of staying in business. These are really earnings issues, provisioning issues, he said.