Lending at many of the nation's largest banks fell in recent months, even after they received $148 billion in taxpayer capital that was intended to help the economy by making loans more readily available.
Ten of the 13 big beneficiaries of the Treasury Department's Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, saw their outstanding loan balances decline by a total of about $46 billion, or 1.4%, between the third and fourth quarters of 2008, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of banks that recently announced their quarterly results.
Those 13 banks have collected the lion's share of the roughly $200 billion the government has doled out since TARP was launched last October to stabilize financial institutions. Banks reporting declines in outstanding loans range from giants Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc., each of which got $45 billion from the government; to smaller, regional institutions. Just three of the banks reported growth in their loan portfolios: U.S. Bancorp, SunTrust Banks Inc. and BB&T Corp.
Bankers say it is unfair to expect them to funnel a large portion of their government capital into loans so soon after receiving it. They say it takes time to make prudent loans and to attract new deposits that will allow them to lend out their new capital efficiently.
Demand for low-risk loans is also ebbing as consumers and businesses rein in their spending and try to conserve cash, according to bank executives. Even though mortgage rates are down, for example, applications in the week ended Jan. 16 declined about 10% from the previous week, according to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association.
Meanwhile, federal regulators have been pushing many banks to set aside extra capital to cushion against losses. Bankers say that is at odds with the government's encouragement to make more loans.
I've written pretty extensively about the current credit environment. Consider the following:
It's not about lending
A Closer Look At Lending
About This Whole Making Banks Lend Thing
The bottom line is we're in a credit contraction environment; loan issuance is going to decrease. It's really that simple. And anyone who is saying TARP funds should go to loans is full of shit. TARP is about stabilizing the bank.