Start trading forex from zero we give you 5 usd as start


Lending windows still open

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) - If recessions could have a sound, it would be the slam! of lending windows shutting at banks. No wonder: when businesses and consumers have trouble borrowing money, economic growth may grind to a halt.

Whether that is happening now is one of the more interesting questions we face in judging just how much the mortgage and credit crisis is harming the overall economy.

The Federal Reserve cited a slowdown in lending as one of they key reasons for last week's emergency rate cut. But figures from an influential survey of small businesses seems to argue the opposite, as does the rush by homeowners to refinance their mortgages.

It's natural for banks to be somewhat gun shy about lending after the massive losses they've incurred on subprime mortgages and other structured assets. What once seemed like safe loans and investments have suddenly turned bad, and are now severely crimping bank capital.

What's not really clear is how extreme the situation has become. Different pieces of lending data present different views -- so the glass can easily look half empty or half full.

For instance, the closely watched quarterly Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey from the Fed only tells you if bank loan officers think the terms and conditions of credit are getting tighter or looser since the last survey. Its findings are based on anecdotes; there are no quantifiable levels.

The most recent survey of 52 domestic banks found there was an increasingly cautious lending environment from July through September of last year. Fourth-quarter results will be out next month.

Nearly a fifth of the respondents -- more than double the number in the second quarter -- had said they tightened lending standards on commercial and industrial loans to companies with sales over $50 million. About a quarter of domestic banks tightened lending standards on consumer loans other than credit cards, up from about 10 percent in the previous quarterly survey.

But while that survey indicates banks have clamped down on lending, most small businesses haven't seen much tighter borrowing conditions.

The National Federation of Independent Business said 32 percent of its 670 respondents in its December survey reported all their credit needs were met, while 7 percent said they were not, up slightly from the 4 percent of respondents in November.

Thirty-four percent of respondents were regular borrowers, having gotten a loan in the previous three months. That was up 2 percentage points from November.

Eight percent of owners said it was harder to get a loan, while one percent said it was easier, typical of readings for the past several years. Only 4 percent of the owners cited the cost and availability of credit as their No. 1 business problem.

"There is nothing happening on Main Street," said William Dunkelberg, chief economist at the Washington-based NFIB. "We have no evidence that credit is really a significant problem."

That view is echoed by the recent data from the Mortgage Bankers Association, which said refinancings for the week ended Jan. 18 reached their highest since April, 2004. The trade group's Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, rose 8.3 percent from the previous week's level.

While it's true that some of those applicants may be turned down, the upbeat view from small businesses and at least some homeowners argue against the market perception that credit woes are upon us. Economists say those metrics should be closely watched to see if any cracks begin to appear.

"If credit markets stay dysfunctional for the next six months, and banks keep losing capital, then there could truly be a credit crunch," said Lyle Gramley, a former Fed governor who is now a senior analyst with the Stanford Financial Group in Washington.

What we don't want to see is a repeat of the 1990-1991 recession when some banks became so risk averse that they all but stopped lending, especially to fund commercial real estate, which had been the root cause of that economic pullback.

Instead, the banks chose to borrow from one another at the fed funds rate, and then used that cash to buy higher-yielding Treasury securities. They could produce profit without the worry of rising defaults.

"That's the last way we want banks to make money today. We want them to be willing to lend to people who will use it because that helps the economy," said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor's.

There is a long way to go until that scenario could play out. Right now, the fed funds rate stands at 3.5 percent while the 2-year Treasury note is around 2.2 percent -- so there isn't any money to be made in that dealing.

That means banks can't stop issuing loans. The evidence suggests they aren't.

Posted by MOHAMED SAID at 12:32 PM  


Post a Comment

My site was nominated for Best Business Blog! TopOfBlogs

Free Blog Counter

blog directory Business Top Finance blogs