Despite rising consumer loan delinquencies, federal regulators at all three banking agencies here are satisfied with industry reserves - for now, at least.
"We monitor reserve levels pretty carefully, and we think they look pretty good," a senior Federal Reserve Board official said. "They seem pretty healthy."
Cary Hiner, assistant director for policy at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., explained that though reserves have been shrinking for several years, so have problem loans.
That means the industry's coverage ratio - reserves to total delinquent loans - has remained flat since peaking in December 1994, he said.
"We do see a potential concern in credit card lenders," Mr. Hiner added. To stay ahead of the curve, the FDIC this year began an intensive monitoring program for credit card lenders.
As a senior vice president in charge of supervision, regulation, and credit at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Michael E. Collins may be the best-placed regulator when it comes to credit card lenders. Many are based in Delaware, which falls under the Philadelphia Fed's purview.
"The general consensus is that throughout '96 and into '97 there will continue to be losses in those portfolios," Mr. Collins said of credit card loans. "If that is the case, then there does need to be a look at reserve levels.
"Consumer portfolios are something to be watched very closely," he said. He noted that chargeoffs totaled $3.6 billion in the first quarter, 58% more than in the year-earlier period.
"Should this continue, you will have to see some consideration for increased provisioning," Mr. Collins said.
Regulators in the FDIC's headquarters are taking a look at all banks involved in credit card lending, checking for trouble signs such as a drop in earnings, an increase in chargeoffs, or rapid growth.
The FDIC ranks the banks and sends the list to its regional directors, Mr. Hiner explained. Examiners in each of the regions then start with the first bank on the list and work their way down, checking to make sure the bank is not in trouble.
Since this program started, in March, no big problems have been uncovered, Mr. Hiner said. The goal, however, is to find problems early - a theme FDIC Chairman Ricki Helfer has stressed since she took over the agency.