Though small banks are losing market share to their larger competitors nationwide, the reverse is the case in some regions of the country, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
Community banks in the Fed's 11th district, for example, which comprises Texas and parts of Louisiana and New Mexico, have retained their approximately 33% market share since 1980, according to the report.
By contrast, small banks nationwide have lost about 11% market share in that time and now hold about 22% of the industry's assets, the study said.
"The main thing about the 11th district is that we had a banking crisis there in the 1980s," said Robert R. Moore, senior economist at the Dallas Fed and author of the report, which was released this summer. "In regions where there were major difficulties in the industry the small banks did better in terms of market share."
Mr. Moore concluded in the study that during downturns the large banks suffered more than the small institutions, allowing the small banks to gain or at least retain market share. Conversely, healthy periods, like now, benefit the big banks, he said.
Other regions of the country bear this theory out. The first district, which includes most of New England, saw similar results during and after that area's economic downturn in the late '80s and early '90s.
The larger banks' nonperforming assets ratio was significantly worse than that of smaller banks during that recession, and consequently, the smaller institutions were more successful in maintaining or building market share, according to the report.
On the other hand, the eighth district, which includes several central and southern states, did not have a banking crisis in the past decade and saw their big banks dramatically expand market share, Mr. Moore said.
Analysts and bankers offered mixed appraisals on why big banks lack the wherewithal in downturns, compared with to small banks.
"The small banks made some hay during that time," said William H. Strunk, chairman of Barrett, Strunk & Associates of Houston, referring to the Texas banking crisis. "Big banks have to do things in mass and when they do, things fall through the cracks. The community banks are there to fill the gaps."
Mr. Strunk said he believes small banks in the state probably maintained or gained market share in the past decade because their size allows them to be more nimble than the bigger banks and to adjust better to the changing conditions.
Whereas a big bank slogging through a downturn may have to implement companywide policies, such as ceasing new lending in a particular sector, a small bank looks at each situation on an individual basis and attempts to customize its service to the changing needs, Mr. Strunk said.
"There are a lot of small towns in Texas that have just one bank that has been doing the same thing for generations," said Edward J. Murphy, who covers the area as an investment banker with Hoefer & Arnett in San Francisco. "That type of convervatism leads to stability, as compared with the larger banks that may have gotten into trouble by relying on the industries that went bad."