Dead Banks Walking
by Doug French
Posted on 6/11/2009 12:00:00 AM
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On the other hand, if a legitimate banking system were in place, it would be based upon honoring property rights. Customers making a deposit in a bank expect the bank to guard, protect, and return their money — at a moment’s notice in the case of demand deposits. After all, that person has not traded a present good for a future good. The depositors believe the bank is warehousing the money for them and that it is available to them at any time. This deposit is not a loan — there is no fixed term, which would be required in the case of a loan — and availability hasn’t transferred.
However, we don’t have legitimate deposit banking but a fractionalized banking system that combines deposit banking with loan banking. Those that sympathize with fractionalized banking will contend that time certificate of deposit accounts are in essence loans from depositors, entitling the bankers to use the funds at their discretion for the term of the CD — just as long as the banker has the money ready when the CD matures. But if the money is lent secured by illiquid assets such as real estate, the banker is clearly not counting on those loans to satisfy expiring CDs and must count on attracting new CD money to pay off the old.
“There is no incentive for bank depositors to go to the trouble of determining a bank’s soundness if the government is going to guarantee deposits.”
Bankers, pressured to earn returns for shareholders and protected from bank runs by FDIC insurance, have over time lent not only more of their deposits but advanced the money for riskier projects. James Grant in a recent Grant’s Interest Rate Observer reminisced about National City Bank, which back in 1954 had only lent out 41 percent of its deposits, with less than one percent of the portfolio being real-estate loans.
By the end of last year, the total loan-to-deposit ratio for all US banks and thrifts was 87 percent, and 60 percent of all loans were classified as real-estate secured.
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Bottom line: Don’t invest in any bank stock.
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