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The FDIC released data on the state of the banking industry last week. And we see that the size and number of the bigger banks increase while the size and number of the smaller banks continue to decline.

Let’s look at the number of banks in the United States first. The number of banks in the United States dropped by 61 from June 30 to November 30 leaving only 6,352 banks still in existence. Note that the FDIC closed only 26 banks in the third quarter of 2011.

Over the past 12 months, the number of banks in the banking system dropped by 271 banks.

Obviously, if we focus on just the number of banks that the FDIC closed, we are not getting the whole picture as many unhealthy banks that might eventually be closed are being acquired.

The number of banks on the FDIC’s list of problem banks dropped to 844 on September 30, down from 865 on June 30. So, the number of banks on the problem list dropped by 21, the number of failed banks was 26, and the number of banks leaving the banking system was 61. Seems like more banks went on the problem list than left it in the third quarter of the year. Maybe the statistics on problem banks is not as "jolly" as indicated.

Over the past 12 months, however, the largest bank classification, banks with assets in excess of $1 billion, rose by 10. Banks with less that $100 million in assets declined by 176 over the past year and banks with assets between $100 million and $1 billion dropped by 105.

Whereas the average size of banks in these last two categories remained about the same over the past year, the average size of banks over $1 billion rose by $1.5 billion to $22.0 billion.

At the end of September 2011, there were 2,208 banks that were less than $100 million in asset size and these banks represented about 1.0 percent of the assets in the banking industry. On the same date, there were 3,626 banks with assets ranging from $100 million to $1 billion, and all of these banks controlled slightly more than 8.0 percent of the assets in the banking industry.

There were 518 banks in the United States that had assets in excess of $1.0 billion, and these 518 banks controlled 91.0 percent of the assets in the banking industry.

In terms of loans, Net Loans and Leases at the smaller commercial banks declined by almost $8.0 million over the past year, by $2.5 million over the past quarter. The Net Loans and Leases at the middle range of banks dropped by a little less that $50.0 million over the past year and by about $4.0 million over the past quarter.

In the larger banks, Net Loans and Leases increased by more than $70.0 million over the past year and by about $36 million over the past quarter.

The bottom line is that commercial banks with assets totaling less than $1.0 billion continue to produce statistics that cause one to question the health of this segment of the banking industry. In addition, given the decline in total assets in these banks, the sector has not observed a consistent reduction in noncurrent assets (past due loans). That is, there has only been a modest reduction in the average amount of noncurrent assets to total assets over this time period.

Consequently, the larger banks are getting larger and becoming more dominant all the time. And, if one looks at Federal Reserve statistics, the largest 25 domestically chartered banks in the country control about two-thirds of all the assets held by domestically chartered banks. Thus, if the largest 518 banks in the country control 91.0 percent of the banking assets, this means that 493 banks that are larger than $1.0 billion in asset size but are not among the 25 largest, control about 24 percent of the assets.

All the statistics show that the small- to medium-sized banks are really becoming insignificant in the United States banking industry and, given the troubles that many of these banks still face, will become even less significant in the future.

An article in the Monday edition of the Wall Street Journal presents research showing that the health of the banking industry is being questioned by the stock markets. Andrew Atkeson and William Simon write,

The recent volatility in bank stocks is a signal that U. S. banks, large and small, are not as healthy as many analysts assume.

The dynamic has played out twice before over the past 85 years—in the Great Depression and the panic of 2008-09—with devastating consequences for the broader economy. Over the past three months, investor uncertainty about the soundness of bank balance sheets, manifested in the daily volatility of stock prices is back up to levels seen historically only in advance of these two great crises.

This extraordinary volatility is not limited to the stocks of large banks but extend to small and midsize banks as well.

So much has been written about the condition of the banking industry in Europe. Very little has really been written about the condition of the banking industry in the United States. Investors in the stock market seem to have picked up this concern.

I have argued for more than two years now that the major reason that the Federal Reserve has pumped so much money into the banking system is that the United States banking industry has severe problems. And the fact that banks have held onto these funds as excess reserves and have not loaned them out is an indication of the fact that many of the banks are still not solvent. However, the fact that the Fed has provided so many excess reserves to the banking system has allowed the FDIC to either close banks or approve acquisitions of weak banks as smoothly as possible. The Fed and the FDIC have, so far, prevented any panic from occurring.

However, problems remain.

Source: While Small Banks Disappear, Big Banks Get Bigger