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Recent developments affecting the profitability and practices of commercial banks.

Sluggish overall economic activity and continuing problems with asset quality made 1991 another difficult year for U.S. commercial banks. As the year progressed, however, some signs of a revival of their health emerged. Banks strengthened their financial condition by making substantial. further provisions against loan losses, improving their capital and liquidity positions, widening their lending margins, and taking actions that should reduce expenses over the longer run through restructuring and, in some cases, consolidation. Financial markets responded favorably to these actions, as well as to prospects for an improving economy, by widening banks' access to capital and other sources of funds. Although demand for bank credit had not picked up as of late spring, impediments to banks' ability to support a brisker pace of credit expansion appear to have diminished.

Net income as a percentage of assets rose only 5 basis points last year, to 0.54 percent, despite a sharp increase in lending margins and large gains on securities (table 1 ). Profits were held down by a partial rollback of recent progress in reducing non-interest expenses (a rollback due in part to onetime restructuring charges) and also by an increased level of provisioning against loan losses. Chargeoff rates and delinquency rates for loans of all major types continued to increase last year. The increase was particularly noticeable for real estate loans, reflecting problems in the commercial real estate sector.

The growth of bank credit in 1991 remained subdued. Reflecting weak loan demand and tighter standards and terms on new loans, the total dollar volume of bank loans fell, and assets shifted dramatically toward U.S. government and federal agency securities. These assets, which include government-guaranteed collateralized mortgage obligations and mortgage pass-through securities, rose nearly 24 percent. In line with the weak growth of bank credit, banks bid unaggressively for deposits.

Prices of outstanding bank debt and equity rose markedly from the low levels of late 1990. Banks increased their equity more than $13 billion and supplemented their capital by a $1.5 billion increase in subordinated debt. The improved climate for banks in 1991 was due in part to a substantial decline in short-term interest rates stemming from Federal Reserve actions to ensure a sustainable recovery from the recession that began in mid-1990 (chart 1). The improvement also reflected a revised market outlook for long-term bank earnings. The Federal Reserve and other bank supervisory agencies took several steps to improve bank lending margins and otherwise encourage bank lending. In late 1990 the Federal Reserve reduced the reserve requirement on nontransaction liabilities from 3 percent to zero, and early last year the Federal Reserve and other bank regulators encouraged their examiners to take a more balanced approach to assessing loan value by considering the strength of underlying cash flows in addition to current market value. In early 1992 the Federal Reserve took further actions to ease monetary policy and to reduce reserve requirements.

The number of federally insured commercial banks that failed last year was 127, down from 169 in 1990 and a record high 220 in 1988. FDIC outlays rose, however, as difficulties were more concentrated at larger banks, many of which were heavily exposed to commercial real estate loans. Though the number of banks classified by the FDIC as "problem banks" remained nearly the same, year-end total assets at these banks increased 49 percent between 1990 and 1991, another indication that larger banks are having difficulty.


Loan quality problems, weak credit demand stemming from the economic slowdown, a further tightening of loan standards, and a considerable effort by businesses to shift from short-term financing, including bank loans, to longer-term funds contributed to the sluggishness of overall growth in bank balance sheets (table 2). These conditions also had an important influence on the composition of total bank credit and bank liabilities. (Appendix tables A.I and A.2 contain detailed information on income, expenses, and portfolio composition for the years 1985 through 1991.)


Total assets at commercial banks expanded at only a 2 1/2 percent pace in 1991. The total dollar volume of loans held in bank portfolios actually fell, with all three main types of 1oans--commercial and industrial, real estate, and consumer--weakening appreciably. Partly as a result, banks increased their degree of liquidity significantly in 1991, much more than in previous periods of economic slowdown. Holdings of U.S. government and federal agency securities--including guaranteed mortgage instruments--rose particularly sharply (chart 2). The liquidity of these instruments and capital pressures have increased their attractiveness.

Commercial and Industrial Loans. The total dollar volume of commercial and industrial loans at commercial banks dropped sharply in 1991 after edging down in 1990 (table 2). The decline stemmed partly from restrictive actions by banks concerned about repayment prospects and sensitive to capital pressures. Banks' decreased willingness to lend was evident in wider spreads between interest rates on prime-based loans and shorter-term market rates, such as the federal funds rate (chart 3), and also in continued tightening of loan standards throughout 1991 (chart 4). Many respondents to the Federal Reserve's periodic Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices (LPS) in early 1991 reported tighter terms and standards for C&I loans; however, the net number reporting tightening (number reporting tightening minus number reporting easing) declined over the year as capital pressures appeared to abate somewhat and the economy began to expand, albeit slowly.

Although supply conditions tightened in 1991, most of the decline in C&I loans appeared to reflect slack demand. The downturn in economic activity, which reduced desired inventory levels and business capital spending, together with a relatively low level of merger activity, held down the need for funds. The downtrend in business loans at commercial banks also reflected a substitution of bond and equity issuance for shorter-term sources of credit as long-term yields on bonds came down, prices of equity shares soared, and businesses moved to lock in longer-term financing at rates below those of recent years (chart 5). The drop in the yield on corporate bonds in 1991 helped push up gross debt issuance by U.S. nonfinancial corporations to an average monthly level of $10.7 billion, the highest since 1986. Similarly, a 35 percent increase in share prices lifted gross equity issuance by U.S. nonfinancial corporations to a record high in 1991.

Real Estate Loans. The total dollar volume of real estate loans extended by banks continued to expand last year, though at a much reduced pace. Most of the increase was for residential real estate. Despite the continuing shrinkage of the thrift industry, however, the pace of residential lending by banks slowed as sluggish economic growth held down the demand for housing. Also, the large share of fixed-rate mortgage originations increased the share of loans eligible for securitization. This increased banks' opportunities to substitute mortgage-backed securities for direct real estate loan investment. More restrictive policies toward mortgage lending also may have played a minor role in the slow growth of mortgage loans, as a small number of banks responding to LPSs in early 1991 reported tougher down-payment and payment-to-income requirements for residential mortgages.

A glut of unoccupied office space and a bleak outlook for income from rental of commercial buildings depressed demand for all types of commercial real estate in 1991. In addition, many respondents to LPSs in 1991 had tightened standards for commercial real estate loans, though the share of respondents reporting further tightening dropped as the year progressed (chart 4).

Nonresidential mortgages likely would have weakened even more had it not been for difficulties banks encountered with construction loans and so-called mini-perm loans. Mini-perm loans, which tend to have longer maturities than standard construction loans and may extend through a building's initial occupancy period, became prevalent in the mid-1980s for financing the construction of income properties. According to the June 1991 LPS, a significant share of mini-perm loans that had come due during the twelve months preceding the survey were not paid off in conformance with the original terms. In some cases the properties securing the loans were foreclosed on, but in many other cases the banks provided temporary or permanent (or "takeout") financing. Traditional lenders, such as life insurance companies, apparently have sharply limited the availability of long-term financing for these properties.

Consumer Loans. Although credit card lending expanded last year, after little growth in 1990, overall consumer lending contracted along with installment lending. The decline in installment debt evidently resulted from consumer efforts, in response to uncertain economic conditions, to delay purchases of automobiles and other durable goods and to reduce high debt-to-income levels they had built up in earlier years.

In addition to weak demand, the growth of consumer loans held by banks was depressed by the securitization of more than $23 billion in consumer receivables last year, slightly above the large volume in 1990. By removing these loans from banks' balance sheets, securitization reduces the amount of capital that banks are required to hold and at the same time allows banks to earn fee income by originating and servicing the securitized loans. Secuntizations were especially strong both in 1990, when the interim capital standards were implemented, and in 1991, the year before full implemenration of capital standards.

Securities. Banks increased their rate of acquisition of securities further last year, to around 15 3/4 percent. Although a pickup in securities holdings is typical in recessionary environments, the phenomenon was especially pronounced in 1991, in part because of the contraction in loans. All the increase was in U.S. government and federal agency securities, about half of which was in the form of mortgage-backed securities. Since the last recession, a liquid market for mortgage-backed securities issued or guaranteed by U.S. government agencies has made it possible for banks to convert real estate loans to marketable instruments--a practice that requires less capital than making loans under the risk-based capital requirements. The practice allows banks to diversify their real estate portfolios geographically and, because of government guarantees, to reduce credit risks.

Securities issued by state and local governments continued to run off last year, as they have since passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which reduced the attractiveness of holding such securities acquired after August 7, 1986. Since 1986, the proportion of state and local government securities in bank asset portfolios has declined 3 percentage points, to about 2 1/4 percent.


With bank funding needs weak, total deposits at commercial banks grew at a 3 percent rate in 1991 on a year-end basis, the slowest pace since 1987 (table 2). The composition of bank liabilities also changed somewhat in 1991, as banks shifted toward retail deposits and continued to reduce their reliance on costly managed liabilities to fund asset growth.

Although retail deposits continued to rise relative to overall balance sheets, banks appeared to pursue them rather unaggressively. Rates offered on retail deposits fell broadly in line with money market rates. In addition, a number of commercial banks reduced expenditures on retail deposit advertising, according to informal contacts. As yields on small-denomination time deposits fell to very low levels by standards of recent years, a portion of these funds apparently shifted into stock and bond markets in a search for higher returns.

As is typical when short-term rates decline, deposit holders shifted some funds from maturing retail certificates of deposit into NOW accounts and savings deposits. The opportunity costs (that is, the rate of return forgone) of these liquid deposits fell last year as offering rates on them adjusted to lower short-term market rates more sluggishly than did yields on small-denomination time deposits (chart 6).

Although the opportunity costs of holding demand deposits also fell last year, these deposits declined slightly from year-end 1990 to year-end 1991. This decline likely owed in part to banks' efforts to hold down deposit insurance fees, which are based on quarter-end deposits. Even on a fourth-quarter-average to fourth-quarter-average basis, demand deposits increased at a sluggish 3 1/2 percent rate, likely because corporations continued to shift away from compensating balances, and toward fees, to pay for bank services.


Despite asset quality pressures and a higher rate of provisioning against loan losses, bank equity capital increased $13.2 billion in 1991, or about 6 percent (table 3). More than $7 billion of the gain came from additional holding company investments in subsidiary banks. These parent institutions took advantage of sharply rising stock prices to issue additional shares and then "down-streamed" the funds to their subsidiary banks. Retained income provided another $3.5 billion in equity capital, and most of the balance came from the conversion of convertible debt, the exercising of stock options, and other equity sales. Improved investor confidence in the future profitability of the banking industry was evidenced by a narrowing of the spread between rates on subordinated notes and debentures for money center and regional banks and rates on Treasury issues (chart 7). During 1991, the industry added $1.5 billion in subordinated debt, a 6.9 percent increase.

Large banks other than the ten largest made the most progress in building equity, increasing equity capital 9 percent. Net income at these banks doubled in 1991, enabling them to retain income while increasing dividend payments. Small and medium-size banks increased their capital at a somewhat slower pace than did large banks, by about 51/2 and 7V4 percent respectively. Small and medium-size banks were a little more profitable than in 1990 and retained more to build equity capital. In contrast to banks of other sizes, the ten largest banks made little overall progress in building new capital in 1991, though the group did raise substantial equity capital in early 1992. These banks were considerably less profitable than banks of other sizes and retained almost no earnings last year.

By year-end 1992, banks must meet two risk-based capital-ratio requirements. First, tier 1 capital--mainly common equity and perpetual preferred stock--must amount to at least 4 percent of risk-weighted assets. Second, total capital--tier 1 plus tier 2--must amount to at least 8 percent of risk-weighted assets. Tier 2 capital includes other types of preferred stock, subordinated debt, loan loss reserves (up to 1.25 percent of risk-based assets), and mandatory convertible debt. In addition, tier 1 capital must equal at least 3 percent of unweighted total assets (the leverage ratio). (In practice, regulators require a leverage ratio above 3 percent for all but the most well-managed banks.)

Risk-weighted assets are calculated by multiplying the amount of assets in each asset category by a factor keyed to the credit risk of that category. Riskier assets have higher weights and require more capital. Thus, a zero percent weight is assigned to U.S. Treasury securities, governmentbacked mortgages, and mortgage-backed securities (MBSs) guaranteed by the Government National Mortgage Association; a 20 percent weight to most other MBSs and federal agency securities; a 50 percent weight to qualifying one- to four-family conventional mortgages and general obligation revenue bonds; and a 100 percent weight to most other loans, including C&1, consumer, and commercial real estate. In addition, banks must maintain capital against the credit exposures associated with most off-balance-sheet transactions.

The vast majority of banks meet the 1992 capital-ratio requirements. In 1991, banks across all size categories made significant progress in increasing risk-based capital ratios, primarily by increasing their tier 1 capital (chart 8). Subordinated debt and intermediate-term preferred stock that qualified as tier 2 capital increased $1 billion, industrywide, in 1991. The ten largest banks continued to rely relatively heavily on subordinated debt (which is classified as tier 2 capital).


Although profitability in the commercial banking industry remained depressed in 1991, the return on assets for all insured commercial banks edged up to 0.54 percent, and the return on equity increased to 8.09 percent (chart 9). Sharp declines in short-term interest rates and a steepening of the yield curve helped boost income, as net interest margins widened and banks realized hefty gains on securities, which helped offset adverse effects on profitability of higher loss provisioning (table 4). Profitability was also held down by elevated noninterest expenses, particularly onetime charges associated with restructuring. Even with depressed profitability, however, dividends paid as a share of assets remained at a high level for the banking system as a whole, and retained income, although up, was low for the third straight year.

Profitability measures for the industry as a whole tended to follow the patterns typical of cyclical downturns and recoveries, turning down as the economy slumped and beginning to rebound as the economy turned around. The industry ended the recession in poor shape. As loan delinquency rates soared during the second half of 1990 and the first half of 1991 with the weakening economy, net income was damped by increased provisions against future loan losses. Weaker profits were not a purely cyclical phenomenon, however. Net income was particularly low at banks that held high proportions of commercial real estate loans, and it deteriorated during the first half of 1991.

Although most banks improved their earnings in 1991, there were wide differences among banks of different sizes. Large banks other than the ten largest made the most progress on earnings; their average return on assets increased 30 basis points in 1991, as their taxable equivalent net interest margins widened 27 basis points. At the ten largest banks, however, loss provisions rose sharply and return on assets fell 26 basis points.

Looking at differences in earnings from bank to bank, rather than by size category, gives some perspective on heterogeneity in bank performance. The distribution of earnings in 1991 continued to narrow from the high degree of dispersion during the mid-1980s, a period of poor earnings for some banks whose loans were concentrated in the energy and agricultural industries (chart 10). Poor performers (banks at the 5th earnings percentile) improved their returns on assets during 1991, and banks at the 95th percentile continued to perform well notwithstanding the recession. The decrease in dispersion between 1990 and 1991 was also evident in the standard deviation for the return on assets, which declined from 1.14 to 1.05 percent.

Bank profitability varied considerably across regions in 1991 (chart 11). Earnings of banks in the San Francisco District deteriorated noticeably: Average return on assets fell from 1.01 percent in 1990 to 0.41 percent (compared with a national average rate of return on assets of 0.54 percent in 1991) as delinquencies on real estate credits mounted and banks made substantial provisions against future loan losses. Although banks in the Boston District on average experienced losses again in 1991, they showed the largest improvement, with net income as a percentage of assets rising from -0.99 percent to -0.13 percent. Progress in the Boston District was due to widening interest margins, which in 1991 increased 35 basis points--twice the national average--as the proportion of nonperforming assets declined. Decreased provisions against loan losses in the Boston District likely reflected substantial chargeoffs made in 1989 and 1990 and stabilization of the regional economy.

Banks in the central part of the country recorded profit rates well above the 1991 national average. These banks had a lower proportion of nonperforming assets, lower charge-off rates, and a smaller concentration of commercial real estate loans than did banks in the nation as a whole. Consequently, they made smaller provisions against future loan losses. Banks in the two southern Districts recorded 1991 profit rates near but slightly above the national average. Like banks in the central part of the country, these banks had a lower proportion of nonperforming assets and lower charge-off rates; however, their loans remained more concentrated in commercial real estate.

The ratios of dividends paid out to net income declined in 1991 for banks of all sizes except the ten largest, which maintained dividends at a high level despite weaker earnings. The overall result was retained income of $3.5 billion for the industry. Retained income accounted for just over 25 percent of the increase in equity capital in 1991. Two-thirds of the retained income was at small banks.

Loan Losses

Loan quality at commercial banks continued to deteriorate in 1991 (table 5). For the banking system as a whole, net charge-offs rose to 1.55 percent of outstanding loans, from 1.40 percent in 1990 and 1.11 percent in 1989. Delinquencies at banks also moved up, to 5.85 percent from 5.26 percent in 1990 and 4.77 percent in 1989. The rise in both charge-off and delinquency rates was particularly sizable at the ten largest banks, where commercial real estate loans, as a percentage of outstanding loans, has been rising sharply for the past decade. Increases in property taken over by banks because of loan problems were pervasive across banks of all sizes, in part reflecting the problems with mini-perm loans.

Detailed data on net charge-offs and delinquencies by type of loan are available for medium and large banks and for all banks with foreign offices (chart 12). For this large subset of banks, seasonally adjusted charge-off and delinquency rates for the major types of loans---commercial and industrial, real estate, and consumer--rose through the first half of 1991. For most types of loans, noticeable declines in charge-off and delinquency rates occurred over the second half of the year. Chargeoffs of real estate loans continued to rise during the second half, however. For all types of loans, measures of loan-performance problems remained at relatively high levels at the end of 1991.

Not surprisingly, banks with the weakest earnings had the biggest problems with asset quality. Loss provisions as a percentage of average net consolidated assets were approximately twice as large at banks in the lowest earnings quartile as at banks in the highest quartile (table 6). Banks in the lowest earnings quartile also had relatively more nonperforming loans as a percentage of assets, which lowered their interest income and narrowed their net interest margins considerably. Additional collection and legal fees as well as higher expenses for wages and salaries associated with problem loans also worsened noninterest margins at the low-earnings banks.

For the banking industry as a whole, loss reserves as a percentage of loans rose 8 basis points in 1991 (table 5). The ten largest banks made much larger loss provisions than in 1990; nevertheless, reflecting charge-offs, their loss reserves as a percentage of loans still fell. In contrast, reserves at banks of other sizes were higher at the end of 1991, even though the rate of provisioning at these banks fell over the year.

Net Interest Margin

Net interest margins widened 17 basis points in 1991. Although gross interest income fell about 1 percentage point as market rates and the prime rate dropped, gross interest expense declined more. The speed at which interest income and expense adjusted to changing market rates differed with bank size (chart 13). The margin at large banks (excluding the ten largest) increased 28 basis points. At the beginning of the year, these banks, which rely relatively heavily on overnight funding and on short-maturity deposits, generally had a greater proportion of their liabilities than assets eligible for near-term repricing compared with smaller banks. As a result, funding costs at large banks dropped more quickly than returns on assets did. Interpretation of these data, however, is complicated by the increased involvement of large banks in derivative markets and other off-balancesheet activities. Income and expenses from these activities are included in noninterest income and expenses and trading account income, though these flows may be closely related to interest income and expenses, for example, through hedging.

Interest margins rose more moderately at medium banks and were essentially unchanged at small banks. The liability structure of these institutions left them less well positioned to take advantage of lower market rates. Small and medium-size banks tend to rely more heavily on longer-term time deposits and therefore did not realize the benefit of lower interest rates until the latter part of the year, when a sizable portion of those deposits matured and were redeposited or were moved into more liquid accounts earning lower rates.

The gross return on banks' loan portfolios (before interest expense and loss provisions), at 10.3 percent, declined more than 100 basis points from 1990. This decrease compares with the fall in money market rates of about 2 percentage points over the period and a decline in the average prime rate of 155 basis points (chart 1). The ten largest banks, a larger proportion of whose loans are repriced in relation to money market yields rather than the prime rate, faced the steepest decline in the average loan rate--about 180 basis points. The smallest banks earned about 60 basis points less on their loans than they had a year earlier.

Small banks earned more on their loan portfolios than the industry average--a reversal of the situation just two years earlier. Business loans at small banks are more likely to be tied to the prime rate than to market rates. The widening spread of the prime rate over market rates (chart 1) thus helped buoy the returns on loan portfolios of small banks. In addition, the loan portfolios of small banks tend to have a larger proportion of loans secured by real estate, which usually have longer terms and less volatile returns than the types of loans held by larger banks do. Finally, most real estate loans at small banks are secured by one- to four-family residential properties. These loans had lower delinquency rates than other types of real estate loans during 1991.

Rates earned on virtually all types of securities held by banks declined with market interest rates over the year. However, the drop in yields on securities, at 37 basis points, was not as severe as the drop in yields on loans, in part because the securities in banks' portfolios have relatively longer maturity periods.

Noninterest Expenses and Income

Despite banks' efforts to control costs, noninterest expenses other than loss provisions were an important factor limiting gains in profits last year. (Noninterest expenses include wages and salaries, occupancy expenses, and other operating expenses.)

Industrywide, noninterest expenses increased 24 basis points relative to average assets. Large banks (excluding the ten largest) registered an increase triple that for small banks (chart 14). Expenses for wages and salaries grew faster than average assets, increasing 3 basis points, in contrast to the past two years, when these expenses as a percentage of assets remained constant. Wage and salary expenses were boosted by outlays associated with restructuring, including costs related to layoffs and early retirements. The ten largest banks, which reduced their staffs by more than 12,000 full-time equivalents, had particularly large increases in this expense category.

Expenses for premises and fixed assets (net of rental income) as a percentage of assets remained unchanged from their 1990 level. Small banks kept these expenses in check, but at larger banks these expenses drifted up in 1991 relative to assets.

Operating expenses classified as "other" were responsible not only for the bulk of the increase in operating costs but also for the variation among banks of different sizes. At small banks, these expenses increased 9 basis points, compared with 22 basis points at all large banks. The jump in other operating expenses partly reflected an industrywide increase in deposit insurance premiums. As a percentage of deposits, premiums averaged 9 basis points higher in 1991 than in 1990. Higher insurance premiums would not, however, explain the variation in the increase in these expenses across banks of different sizes, particularly because larger banks tend to rely less on deposits than do smaller banks. Larger banks, however, have had stronger growth in off-balance-sheet activities and, most likely, the associated expenses. Some of the increase in other operating expenses also may have been associated with the deterioration in loan quality. In general, banks with sizable increases in these expenses also made large loan loss provisions, suggesting that higher noninterest expenses may stem from collection and legal expenses related to loan performance problems.

Some of the variation in noninterest expenses is likely due to onetime expenses related to consolidation and restructuring. This interpretation is strengthened by an analysis of banks according to merger activity (table 7). Noninterest expenses as a percentage of average assets were 17 basis points higher on average at banks that merged during 1991 than at other banks, even though wages and salaries as a percentage of average assets were 8 basis points lower. These differences were statistically significant at the 5 percent level in 1991 but were indistinguishable in 1990, the year before the merger. Some mergers may reduce costs in the long run because of economies of scale and scope in back-office operations and other overhead activities. However, implementation of a merger or a change in structure evidently is expensive in the short run, substantially so for some banks. Only medium-size banks that merged were able to hold noninterest expenses below those of their counterparts that did not merge during 1991. Large banks (including the ten largest) had the largest difference in noninterest expenses between the two groups of banks.

Noninterest income as a percentage of assets also grew in 1991 across all sizes of banks (chart 14). Hikes in service charges on deposits accounted for more than 70 percent of the change in noninterest income at large banks excluding the ten largest. At the ten largest banks, however, most of the increase came from other fee income, particularly fees on credit cards, fees for processing securities, consumer banking fees, and fees associated with over-the-counter derivatives.

Since 1985, noninterest income has become much more dispersed across banks of different sizes. At small banks, increases have amounted to only a few basis points, while at the ten largest banks noninterest income has climbed about 1 percentage point. For the largest banks, the increase essentially reflects greater emphasis on off-balance-sheet activities, such as loan servicing, mortgage banking, trust activities, and activities associated with over-the-counter derivatives, as well as securitization. The strong increases in noninterest income improved the noninterest margin steadily from 1985 to 1990, with an overall decrease in the negative spread between noninterest income and expense of 18 basis points. The net noninterest margin started to become more negative for banks with assets over $5 billion in 1990 and became more negative across all size categories in 1991. For the industry, the net noninterest margin widened 14 basis points in 1991, largely offsetting the increase in the net interest margin.


Although bank profitability has improved somewhat and the recovery appears to be on a firmer footing in early 1992, overall bank lending has yet to revive. Nevertheless, there is some indication that banks are more prepared to lend. Debt and equity issuance by bank holding companies picked up in the first quarter of 1992. Responses to the January and May 1992 LPSs indicated that banks had largely discontinued tightening their credit standards for most types of loans and that some easing had occurred. Profit reports for the first quarter of 1992 generally have been encouraging. Banks have held on to high net interest margins, in part by aggressively cutting rates paid on retail deposits. Tighter expense control and improving credit quality should help bolster income for healthy banks; however, the assets of problem banks are at record levels. Bank profitability likely will continue to be depressed in the near term by costs associated with further industry consolidation, continued sluggish loan demand, lingering credit quality problems, and higher deposit insurance premiums.

Allan D. Brunner, Diana Hancock, and Mary M. McLaughlin, of the Board's Division of Monetary Affairs, prepared this article. Thomas Allard and Andrew Laing provided research assistance.

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Author:McLaughlin, Mary M.
Publication:Federal Reserve Bulletin
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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