WASHINGTON In a move that is becoming standard practice in New York States review of large-bank merger applications, its Banking Department has requested detailed information about any subprime lending activities of Chase Manhattan Corp. and J.P. Morgan & Co.
In a Nov. 21 letter to Chase, Edward B. Kramer, New Yorks deputy superintendent of banks, asked whether Chase, J.P. Morgan, or any of their subsidiaries have made subprime loans within the last two years.
He also asked if they hold such loans on behalf of independent originators that plan to sell them, or if they underwrite the securitization of pools of subprime loans. In all cases, the banks are required to supply data from the past two years.
Questions about direct lending are thought to be aimed more at Chase than J.P. Morgan, which is primarily an investment bank.
Representatives of the banks said the inquiry does not imperil the merger. But it may signal that at least some state regulators are responding more aggressively to community group complaints about lending practices, while federal regulators have been more cautious.
This will not pose any difficulties for the banks, said Gary Rice, a partner with the law firm Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett, which is representing Chase in the deal. Noting that Credit Suisse First Boston and Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette were asked similar questions when state regulators reviewed their merger, he said, It is becoming part of the application these days.
A spokesman for J.P. Morgan echoed Mr. Rices comments.
Ted McElroy, a spokesman for the New York State Banking Department, said the request is a normal part of the application procedure and should not be seen as an attempt to single out the two banks lending practices for special examination.
The major bank applicants are often asked these questions because of involvement with finance companies, which securitize mortgages, including subprime mortgages, Mr. McElroy said. These are pretty routine.
The department makes such inquiries, he said, to make sure borrowers are being treated fairly and receiving adequate information about the terms and conditions of their loans. We dont want any of our regulated institutions to be taking advantage of anyone, he said.
But community activists, who challenged the Chase-Morgan deal on the grounds that the banks are not meeting their Community Reinvestment Act obligations, said the inquiry is at least partly in response to concerns they have raised about involvement Chase may have with predatory lenders.
Matthew Lee, executive director of Inner City Press/Community on the Move, said: If this were as routine an inquiry as they say, they would have addressed it in their application. They were hoping the questions wouldnt be raised.
Mr. Kramer is requiring the banks to detail how extensively their policies affect the credit-granting procedures of any independent subprime lenders with whom they have a relationship. He wrote, Do Chase, Morgan, or any of their subsidiaries have in place any policies, programs, or procedures that could cause discrimination by the subprime lender in either the origination of the loans or selection of the loans for transfer and sale?
The letter says that if the banks or their subsidiaries are involved in the securitization of subprime loans, they have to disclose any influence they have on the criteria loans must meet to be included in securitization pools, and any procedures that have been established for ensuring those criteria are met.
Additionally, Mr. Kramer asked about any safeguards the banks have set up to prevent their buying or selling loans granted under discriminatory or illegal terms.
Finally, if either of the banks, or any of their affiliates, is involved in the origination of subprime loans, Mr. Kramer requested they provide the number and dollar amount of any such loans they have made since 1998. Mr. Kramer also asked for the details of any procedures they have that permit discretionary pricing of loans.
Mr. Kramer also requested information about two sets of lawsuits.
The first is a class action in New Jersey against Chase, alleging its cooperation in inflating auto-loan rates.
The second involves the so-called Sumitomo Copper Trading Scandal. In 1996 Sumitomo Corp., a Japanese trading conglomerate, lost $2.6 billion because of unauthorized copper trading by an employee. Sumitomo accused several firms of facilitating the trades, including Chase and J.P. Morgan, and sued them for damages.
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