The Council on Wage and Price Stability, concluding that banks and other financial institutions may not be able to comply with the price and profit standards of the White House anti-inflation program, yesterday issued new regulations restricting dividend payments to stockholders.
The council, in issuing the new regulations, said the action was necessary because financial institutions "may lack any practical means of limiting prices and profits as required by the anti-inflation program."
In addition to limiting dividend payments to stockholders, the new regulations would limit increases in non-interest charges to bank customers.
The council, according to its statement, felt constrained by the need, on the one hand, not to interfere with the monetary policy objectives of the Federal Reserve Board, and on the other, to recognize that the Fed's Regulation Q limits the interest rates the institutions can pay most savers.
"Public policy ought to work toward the ultimate abolition of Regulation Q and similar ceiling restrictions on deposit rates," COWPS declared.
"In the short run," the council statement continued, "even limited upward adjustments in allowable deposit rates would be helpful because these adjustments would increase incentives to hold assets in financial form."
Such a change, said COWPS, would reduce "price pressures on those physical commodities that are used as a 'hedge' against inflation."
The council also issued new price standards for gas and electric utilities that allow a full dollar-for-dollar pass through of fuel costs to customers, but limit other cost increases used to justify rate increases to 6.5 percent a year.
Any higher operating costs resulting from the use of oil fired power plants to offset the shutdown of Virginia Electric and Power Company's Surry I and II nuclear power plants, for instance, apparently could be passed through to customers under the COWPS standard. Surry I and II have been ordered shut down because of a question about their ability to withstand potential earthquake damage.
For financial institutions, including banks, savings and loan associations, mutual savings banks and credit unions, COWPS also established standard for earnings. If earnings in the year beginning March 15 exceed the average for the best three of the preceding five years, measured either as a rate of return on assets or on equity, then the new restrictions would apply.
If the earnings limit is reached, an institution cannot increase its dividend rate by more than 7 percent this year, and it cannot raise its non-interest charges, such as fees on checking accounts.
Any earnings above the limit, and above the amount needed to increase dividends 7 percent if the institution so chooses, would have to be held as retained earnings or added to a capital account.
Since most utilities, because of rising fuel and power plant construction costs, cannot satisfy the general price standard calling for lower rates of price increases than in 1976 and 1977, COWPS established a "gross margin" standard similar to that used earlier for food manufacturers and petroleum refiners.
That standard allows the fuel cost pass through but limits the other costs that can be passed on to customers. If a utility cannot comply with either this standard or the price deceleration standard then it must comply with a limit on profit margins, COWPS said.
COWPS also said that the state or federal regulators could allow for "extreme hardships and gross inequities."