Foreign banks have gone on a spending spree in the United States, paying out more than $25 billion last year, according to a study released this week.

Spending was up 31% from 1992, the last time the Institute of International Bankers conducted its survey. International banks in 1996 employed more than 118,000 U.S. workers and spent nearly $17 billion on salaries, benefits, capital costs, and other operating expenses. That's up from 114,000 employees and $14 billion in 1992.

Purchases of goods and services by foreign banks supported another 174,000 U.S. jobs that generated $7.2 billion more in worker earnings in 1996, the report said. That estimate was based on a formula from the Commerce Department. Four years ago, bank spending supported 190,000 jobs, which generated $54 billion in worker earnings.

"We want people to have a better understanding of the role played by the foreign bank financial community in the U.S.," said Lawrence R. Uhlick, executive director of the Institute of International Bankers, which authored the study. "For those who are not involved in this side of the business, there is less knowledge of what these banks are doing."

The study comes as foreign banks are pressing lawmakers to make it easier for them to branch across states lines and pushing the Federal Reserve Board to reduce the burdensome paperwork requirements of Regulation K.

The institute's study examined foreign bank operations here during 1996. Among the highlights, international banks:

Held $1.34 trillion of assets, or 26% of all U.S. banking assets. Four years ago, banks held 22% of U.S. banking assets.

Made $316 billion, or 39%, of the commercial and industrial loans. Banks had 35.6% of the market four years ago.

Bought more than $500 billion in syndicated loans, or 57% of the market.

Extolling the benefits of an open market, the group argued that international banks provide a substantial source of credit during downturns in the U.S. economy and are a prime financer of exports.

Besides commercial loans, international banks made $234 billion in loans and credit extensions to other banks and $81.8 billion in real estate loans in this country last year.

They held a gross notional amount of $6.1 trillion in derivatives contracts and provided $451 billion in standby letters of credit for state and local governments.

At the end of 1996, 355 international banks from more than 65 countries maintained 870 branches and other facilities in the United States. They generally provide loans and other services to subsidiaries of customers in their home countries, domestic corporations, banks, securities firms, and municipal governments.

Foreign banks that operate nonbank subsidiaries in the United States held another $451 billion of assets.

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