WASHINGTON - Deputy Treasury Secretary John Robson warned Monday that bank regulators could undermine the economic recovery by issuing realty loan guidelines that are overly restrictive.
The guidelines, required by the banking law passed last December, are expected to be proposed next week.
Congress called for an overhaul of the rules inn light of mounting problem real estate loans, but gave regulators discretion in devising them.
One thing regulators are expected to specify is how large a loan can be as a percentage of the collateral's value. Currently there are no restrictions on loan to-value ratios.
Excessively rigid standards would exacerbate the credit crunch, which inn turn would hold back an economic recovery, Mr. Robson told 375 bank compliance officers at a conference in Washington.
Mr. Robson said he is worried the new rules will not weigh such important factors as the economic environment, the borrower's credit history, and the lender's financial condition.
"My experience is that this sort of rigid and excessive regulation by the numbers often creates more problems than it solves," Mr. Robson said at the conference, which was organized by the American Bankers Association.
"We don't want to create a situation where small developers without hoards of capital have nowhere to turn for construction loans," he said.
Revised Real Estate Standards
Congress has ordered bank and thrift regulators to set new real estate lending standards by Sept. 18 and implement them by March 1993. The proposed rules will be issued shortly to give bankers ample time to comment.
Former FDIC Chairman L. William Seidman called for a return to loan-to-value minimums for real estate loans in early 1991.
He blamed the Garn-St Germain Act of 1982, which removed these limits, for the enormous amount of problem real estate loans weighing down bank portfolios today.
Mr. Robson's department oversees two of the four federal banking agencies. He has been jawboning regulators for months not to be heavy-handed because he said they were discouraging banks from making loans, contributing to the so-called credit crunch.
He reported a drop in the number of complaints about overzealous regulators, citing it as evidence that "the regulator element in the credit crunch has eased."
Easing the Burden
Mr. Robson boasted that the Treasury Department's efforts to ease the regulatory burden on lenders resulted in 35 explicit changes in instructions to bank and thrift examiners.
He said that the President's moratorium on new government regulations had spurred the economy. He promised: "The administration will continue its search-and-destroy mission against the labyrinth of applications, monthly forms, and federal regulations that unnecessarily harass business and draw a bull's-eye on the taxpayer's wallet."
Mr. Robson also critisized the Securities and Exchange Commission's insistence on mark-to-market accounting for bank's investment accounts and the agency's tough interpretation of the definitions of in-substance foreclosures.
He accused the SEC of using a "bean-counter mentality." No market exists for many bank assets, he explained. "That means a |market value' system would rely on nothing better than a guess as to how a market-if one existed - would determine an asset's vale."
Mr. Robson also chastised the SEC for not following the banking agencies' lead on in-substance foreclosures, which applies to properties that have not actually been foreclosed, but might as well have been.
When a bank takes over certain tasks like managing the property, then for accounting purposes the loan must be treated as if a foreclosure has occurred.
Banking regulators have developed "some reasonable, real-world examples to clarify and guide examiners on what is and what is not an in-substance foreclosure," Mr. Robson said. "But the SEC staff seems to want even more rigid definitions ... that would seriously thwart examiner flexibility."