WASHINGTON — Despite banker arguments that post-crisis financial reforms are damaging the health of the financial industry, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Martin Gruenberg sought Wednesday to paint a different picture, citing evidence that banks are doing well.
"The evidence suggests that the reforms put in place since the crisis have been largely consistent with, and supportive of, the ability of banks to serve the U.S. economy," Gruenberg said.
He noted that the low interest rate environment remains challenging, but many previous issues, including problems with nonperforming loans and litigation expenses, are largely resolved. Banks have been lending more as earnings improve, he said. Gruenberg pointed to the FDIC's most recent Quarterly Banking Profile, which showed that loan growth had the fastest 12-month rate since the crisis. Loan growth in 2015 was twice as much as the increase in the U.S. gross domestic product.
"The retrenchment from the crisis is largely over, and bank loan growth and risk appetite appear to have returned," Gruenberg said.
He added that in 2015 banks earned a record $164 billion. He also said that bank call reports show that overhead expenses have been declining.
Gruenberg also said that, while bank earnings fell 1.9% in the first quarter, it was an outlier because of nonperforming energy-related loans and decreases in trading revenue at some of the largest banks.
He noted that community bank performance continues to be strong, with first-quarter net income up 7.4% from a year earlier.
Following the speech, Gruenberg was asked about remarks that Bank of America Chief Executive Brian Moynihan made earlier in the week in which he said it is "very tough" to start a de novo bank and compete against the money center and large regional banks.
Gruenberg replied that "community banks, fair to say, have come out of the aftermath of this crisis and recession… largely doing better than the large institutions."
"We could use more community banks in this country as well and we are going to be trying to work on that although zero interest rates don't help," he said.
Gruenberg acknowledged that net interest margins for large banks with more than $250 billion in assets have decreased from 3.3% in 2010 to 2.7% in the first quarter of 2016, but said "bank earnings have been on a generally favorable trajectory as we move farther from the crisis."
"It is fair to ask how these prudential reforms have affected banks' ability to support U.S. economic growth and market functioning," he said. "I think an objective look at relevant data suggests that on balance, the reforms that have been put in place since the crisis have made the financial system more resilient and more stable, while strengthening the ability of banking organizations to serve the U.S. economy."