The 25 largest U.S. banks currently hold 45.7% of their assets in loans and leases, according to Fed data released Friday, down from 54.1% this time last year. Meantime, their year-over-year holdings of Treasury and agency securities increased 33.5%. This reflects more-stringent borrowing standards and diminished loan demand. But it also reveals a subtle yet persistent change in how banks operate.
Banks have pulled back from making risky loans in favor of engaging more directly with the Fed — avoiding the type of lending that spawned stricter regulatory standards after 2008 while readily accommodating the Fed’s expressed satisfaction with an “ample reserves” regime. Bank lending to small businesses has remained low throughout the postcrisis years, with the largest declines in small-business lending at large banks, as shown in a 2018 report commissioned by the Small Business Administration.
The switch is understandable. The cost of regulatory compliance is a huge disincentive for banks, and selling government-backed securities to the Fed and piling up reserves can turn out to be a profitable business model.
Author(s): Judy Shelton
Publication Date: 8 March 2021
Publication Site: Wall Street Journal