The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. failed to enforce its own guidelines to rein in excessive commercial real estate lending by at least 20 banks that later collapsed, reports by the agency's watchdog show.
The FDIC's Office of Inspector General analyzed 23 lenders taken over by regulators from August 2008 to March and found that for 20, the agency's examiners did not identify the issue early enough or should have taken stronger supervisory action after recognizing the banks had dangerously high levels of the loans before they failed. The findings are in separate reports posted this year on the inspector general's Web site.
"It's often we'll see in our reports that the FDIC detected problems in the bank in a timely fashion, but in some cases forceful corrective action wasn't required by the FDIC to be taken quickly enough," Jon Rymer, the FDIC's inspector general, said in a telephone interview.
The failure to follow up on the 2006 recommendation, that banks avoid letting commercial real estate holdings exceed 300% of capital, has emerged as FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair steps up her effort to expand the agency's role in regulating the financial services industry.
Bair is lobbying the Democratic-led Congress to give the FDIC the authority to unwind any failing bank holding companies. It lacks the authority to unwind Federal Reserve-regulated holding companies that have businesses beyond taking deposits and making loans.
"We should ask the prudential regulators why they did not do more to push banks to pay attention to their guidance," Rep. Brad Miller, a North Carolina Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, said in an interview. "If they thought their conduct was unsafe, it's unsound, they certainly should have stopped it."
The FDIC is "addressing any existing gaps" in the supervision of commercial real estate lending, spokesman Andrew Gray said in a prepared statement. "The FDIC has also stepped up our off-site surveillance program to assist our examiners in targeting those institutions with elevated risk profiles so that corrective action programs are instituted in a timely and constructive manner."
The Fed, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Office of Thrift Supervision have been faulted this year by their watchdogs for not reining in commercial real estate lending.
The OCC, Fed and FDIC set the 300% threshold in 2006 to help regulators identify banks with high loan concentrations that warranted greater supervisory scrutiny.