Obama to Bankers - Lend Your Way Out of Debt

by: Economic Disconnect

During the whole inflation/deflation debate the same chart is always discussed: Bank Reserves. Banks have stashed cash either in their vaults or at the Fed in record amounts. Deflation siders say this cash has not entered into the money supply and thus does not "exist" in a monetary sense and they are 100% correct on that. Now.

Inflation siders point to that cookie jar and cast their minds to a time where the banks may well feel emboldened to put that cash to work on a grand scale. This has not happened and thus far there are few signs it will in the near term.

I am always on the lookout for the switch to happen as I think smug banks fresh off getting their butts saved are none too shy about chasing returns like in the old days. All they need is a wink and a smile. Maybe this is starting.

Monday's big story was the White House hosting a meeting with top bankers (the ones that could make it that is) in an effort to guilt them into taking risk. From Yahoo Finance:

Obama implores top bankers to increase lending
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama implored top bankers Monday to help keep the fragile recovery from faltering by boosting lending to small businesses and getting behind an overhaul of financial regulation. "We rise and fall together," Obama declared.

We rise and fall together? I think that was the line which is going to come back later. Who fell exactly? The 10 plus percent unemployed or banker bonus amounts? Just checking. Moving on:

Obama called his message a simple one: "America's banks received extraordinary assistance from American taxpayers to rebuild their industry, and now that they're back on their feet, we expect an extraordinary commitment from them to help rebuild our economy."

He urged bankers to "explore every responsible way" to boost lending and to "take a third and fourth look" at every loan application.
The bankers said they got the message.

What could go wrong? So what about the banks, what kind of incentive do they need here:

But they (banks) also insisted they are getting conflicting messages from Washington when they do try to make more loans. While the White house presses for more lending, regulators are cracking down on banks to lend more prudently and forcing them to keep larger cushions of capital to protect against future losses. That means there's less money available to lend.

Step one: remove any check on capital reserves. Check. What else?:

"He didn't call us any names" during Monday's session lasting just over an hour, said U.S. Bancorp (NYSE:USB) CEO Richard Davis.

Davis called the meeting "very productive" and acknowledged banks haven't done as good a job as they could in resuming lending. He said he and fellow bankers understood the public outcry over compensation and said they agreed to "make sure we are doing the job of banking, which is lending."

"And we should get paid for that when we do it," added Davis, who is incoming chairman of the Financial Services Roundtable.

The set of brass ones on this guy is amazing. First off, banking is many things and not just lending out money hand over fist. Second, see the move here to remove pay limits on any banks going forward. Smooth operators. Wrapping it up:

Using a sports analogy, Obama told the bankers Americans might be more sympathetic to outsize pay if those who got it were in the equivalent of a financial World Series, according to a senior administration official who lacked authorization to speak publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The bankers told Obama they are shifting from cash bonuses to longer-term payouts such as stock, but Obama said that was not good enough because the public was likely to still see it as excessive, this official said.

The bankers have said the amount of lending is limited by factors beyond their control: The sluggish economy and tighter oversight by regulators. The slow economy has businesses reluctant to expand -- and makes banks more grim about their prospects. Loan applications are down.

I have no idea what was meant by "World Series" in finance. Again, the tighter oversight is pointed out by the banks.

So where does this leave things? The engineered recovery has not been good enough to allow a return to old habits thus far. The banks now have on their resume an explicit guarantee on their actions and this is big. I think is just pure dumb luck that there are no areas to plow money into right now or the banks would be doing it.

On a related note I was surprised at a comment that Barry Ritholtz made Monday on a post about bank lending. Here is the relevant section:

Low, Low Rates
...That is the problem with an abdication of lending standards — as we saw from 2002 – to 2007. After the collapse, the over-reaction sends the pendulum swinging too far the other way. Lending standards become too tight.

If only we monkeys could learn anything from history . . .

Now understand that Barry is as sharp as they come so when I disagree it is both not normal and means I am wrong.

That said, I would be interested to know what kind of lending standards Ritholtz sees as too tight? Maybe business loans, but certainly not mortgage loans. Of course, banks do not write home loans anymore, they allow the FHA/FNM/FRE the honor of doing that. The current loan standards for FHA are anything but tight.

If banks are looking for options for loans and are having problems maybe they are on to something. Headlines from Monday:
Mexico’s Credit Rating Downgraded One Level by S&P
Looks like Mexico is out.

Abu Dhabi Bails Out Dubai!
Dubai will be a sick joke punch line for years to come.

Greece Enters Twilight Zone As It Announces 90% Banker Bonus Tax Plans, Expectations For Sub 3% Deficit By 2013
How is that for business friendly? Looks like Greece is a no go.

China is taking care of their own lending by ramping stimulus to the moon, so they are out. The Fed MBS program ends in Spring 2010 (yeah right) and nobody is going to go to a bank for a mortgage when they can get the FHA low rate loan from fantasy land.

It is my contention that the reason all the money created over the past 2 years has not led to inflation (hyper or only kinda) is that there are no good options for loans and not many that are even just poor risks. We can all be thankful about that.