THE BLOG
03/30/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Banking Is In Critical Condition

From the FDIC:

Expenses associated with rising loan losses and declining asset values overwhelmed revenues in the fourth quarter of 2008, producing a net loss of $26.2 billion at insured commercial banks and savings institutions. This is the first time since the fourth quarter of 1990 that the industry has posted an aggregate net loss for a quarter. The ?0.77 percent quarterly return on assets (ROA) is the worst since the ?1.10 percent in the second quarter of 1987. A year ago, the industry reported $575 million in profits and an ROA of 0.02 percent. High expenses for loan-loss provisions, sizable losses in trading accounts, and large writedowns of goodwill and other assets all contributed to the industry's net loss. A few very large losses were reported during the quarter-four institutions accounted for half of the total industry loss-but earnings problems were widespread. Almost one out of every three institutions (32 percent) reported a net loss in the fourth quarter. Only 36 percent of institutions reported year-over-year increases in quarterly earnings, and only 34 percent reported higher quarterly ROAs.

This is the first time since the fourth quarter of 1990 that the industry has posted an aggregate net loss for a quarter. It's been 17 years since we've seen the banking industry this sick. In addition, return on assets hasn't been this low in 20 years. What caused the last set of problems? The savings and loan crisis.

High expenses for loan-loss provisions, sizable losses in trading accounts, and large writedowns of goodwill and other assets all contributed to the industry's net loss. This represents a double whammy for banks. Not only are their assets decreasing in value, so are their loans. That means they're getting hit from both ends.

Regarding the "A few very large losses were reported during the quarter-four institutions accounted for half of the total industry loss." Yes, there are some money center banks that are in deep trouble. These are the institutions referred to as "Zombie Banks". But note the remainder of that statement. "but problems were widespread." In other words, if we take care of two of three big banks, we'll still have big problems. Consider the following statement from the summary: "Almost one out of every three institutions (32 percent) reported a net loss in the fourth quarter. Only 36 percent of institutions reported year-over-year increases in quarterly earnings, and only 34 percent reported higher quarterly ROAs." Bottom line -- those are terrible numbers.

In addition, consider the following statements from the report:

Insured banks and thrifts set aside $69.3 billion in provisions for loan and lease losses during the fourth quarter, more than twice the $32.1 billion that they set aside in the fourth quarter of 2007. Loss provisions represented 50.2 percent of the industry's net operating revenue (net interest income plus total noninterest income), the highest proportion since the second quarter of 1987 when provisions absorbed 53.2 percent of net operating revenue

.....

Net income for all of 2008 was $16.1 billion, a decline of $83.9 billion (83.9 percent) from the $100 billion the industry earned in 2007. This is the lowest annual earnings total since 1990, when the industry earned $11.3 billion. The ROA for the year was 0.12 percent, the lowest since 1987, when the industry reported a net loss. Almost one in four institutions (23.4 percent) was unprofitable in 2008, and almost two out of every three institutions (62.5 percent) reported lower full-year earnings than in 2007.

.....

Net loan and lease charge-offs totaled $37.9 billion in the fourth quarter, an increase of $21.6 billion (132.2 percent) from the fourth quarter of 2007. The annualized quarterly net charge-off rate was 1.91 percent, equaling the highest level in the 25 years that institutions have reported quarterly net charge-offs (the only other time the charge-off rate reached this level was in the fourth quarter of 1989).

.....

The amount of loans and leases that were noncurrent rose sharply in the fourth quarter, increasing by $44.1 billion (23.7 percent). Noncurrent loans totaled $230.7 billion at year-end, up from $186.6 billion at the end of the third quarter. More than two-thirds of the increase during the quarter (69.3 percent) came from loans secured by real estate. Noncurrent closed-end 1-4 family residential mortgages increased by $18.5 billion (24.1 percent) during the quarter, while noncurrent C&I loans rose by $7.6 billion (43.0 percent). Noncurrent home equity loans increased by $3.0 billion (39.0 percent), and noncurrent loans secured by nonfarm nonresidential real estate increased by $2.9 billion (20.2 percent). In the 12 months ended December 31, total noncurrent loans at insured institutions increased by $118.8 billion (107.2 percent). At the end of the year, the percentage of loans and leases that were noncurrent stood at 2.93 percent, the highest level since the end of 1992. Real estate construction loans had the highest noncurrent rate of any major loan category at year-end, at 8.51 percent, up from 7.30 percent at the end of the third quarter.

Here are relevant charts from the report presented in no order of importance: