ZYWICKI: Why aren’t banks lending?
Despite constant urging by Washington for banks to increase their lending, credit conditions remain tight. Small-business lending continues to lag, and credit card issuers have slashed credit lines and canceled thousands of accounts. Just before Memorial Day, the Obama administration unveiled its latest effort to jump-start lending, a new Small Business Lending Fund (SBLF), which will make available $30 billion to community banks to promote small-business lending. The proposal already has cleared the House Financial Services Committee.
But is there any reason to believe that this modest investment will do what the hundreds of billions of Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) dollars failed to do - namely, encourage banks to start lending? Not likely. As with previous efforts, the new fund fails to address the most important reason banks aren’t lending: Washington bureaucrats and politicians are making it impossible for them do so.
Every loan bears some risk that it will not be repaid. In making a loan, a lender has two considerations: First, it must be able to price the risk of the loan accurately or, second, it must reduce its risk exposure by reducing the number of loans it makes, the amount it lends or the risk profile of those to whom it lends. Regulations that interfere with the ability to price risk accurately thus inevitably produce efforts to reduce risk exposure by curtailing lending.
Since President Obama was inaugurated, Congress has launched one of the most ambitious legislative agendas in American history - proposals that would fundamentally transform the economy: from remaking the health care system, to a far-reaching set of taxes and regulations to combat climate change and remake the energy system, to a comprehensive financial overhaul bill that would fundamentally reshape the banking system.