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Smaller Banks Resist Federal Cash Infusions
The combination of the existing and new guarantees will cover about 80 percent of the $7 trillion in deposits at the nation's banks. The bulk of the uninsured deposits are held in interest-bearing accounts, such as certificates of deposit, that tend to be marketed and regarded as investment products.
Sheila C. Bair, chairman of the FDIC, said the agency considered guaranteeing all bank deposits but decided that any potential benefit was outweighed by the risk that a guarantee on interest-bearing accounts would attract a huge inflow of deposits currently held in money-market mutual funds.
"We're trying not to stabilize one part" of the financial system "and destabilize another part," she said.
Separately, the FDIC is creating an insurance program to encourage investment in banks by guaranteeing that investors won't lose money. Participating banks will pay the FDIC a fee of 75 cents on each $100 in debt that they sell to investors. The FDIC will guarantee through June 2012 the debt issued by participating banks before the end of June 2009. If the bank goes bankrupt, or defaults on its debt, the FDIC will pay the investors.
To prevent banks from running up massive debts on the government's tab, the program limits banks to a 25 percent increase from their current level of borrowing. The FDIC estimates that the maximum amount of debt that banks could issue under the program is about $1.4 trillion.
Bair also said that the FDIC may refuse to guarantee debt issued by banks with financial problems, though she declined to discuss specific criteria.
Bair acknowledged that the new guarantees shelter banks from the immediate consequences of misbehavior because depositors and investors have no incentive to remove their money from an institution if they know that the government stands behind it.
But Bair said the government's first priority was to stabilize the industry.
"The risks of moral hazard were simply outweighed by the need to act and act dramatically and act quickly," Bair said.
Dugan offered a slightly different perspective.
"It just means we've lost one tool and we're going to have make sure that we compensate," he said.
Staff writers Paul Kane, Lori Montgomery and Peter Whoriskey contributed to this report.