Many of the nation's banks, under pressure from rising interest costs and the Federal Reserve, are making it harder for individuals to borrow money to speculate in commodities and metals and for companies to borrow money to buy other companies.
Edward L. Palmer, chairman of the executive committee at New York's largest bank, Citibank, said the bank's lending officers have been told to take a careful look at all requests for loans to "finance specualtive purchases and carrying of securities, gold, metals and commodities."
Similarly, Palmer said, "We're going to agonize more than ever over whether to make loans for corporate acquisitions."
Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul A. Volcker has said several times in the last week that in order to slow credit expansion and the explosion of prices in the commodities and metals markets banks should reduce lending to speculators.
But many major banks said they also were going to restrict their financing of corporate takeovers.
The Federal Reserve has been concerned about rapid increases in bank lending in general, but has been especially concerned about loans to speculators because speculation has contributed sharply to rising prices for gold and copper and other important industrial metals as well as for sugar, grains and other commodities.
The Treasury Department, for its part, today said it is taking steps to make life more uncertain for speculators in gold, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission said it is considering putting a limit on the number of futures contracts gold speculators can buy.
The steps taken to reduce lending vary from bank to bank, and no bank surveyed said it wouldn't refuse loans to individuals who want to buy metals or commodities.
"If a long-standing customer comes to us and wants a loan to buy gold or commodities and we think the purpose of the loan is productive," he has a reasonable chance of getting a loan, said a spokesman for Chase Manhattan Bank, the nation's third largest.
"Our lending officers know the environment is different. They've met on it and we are totally in agreement with the Federal Reserve's purposes," the Chase spokesman said. "In this environment it is difficult to justify financing many takeovers."
One Wall Street expert said, however, that while the bigger banks might take steps to reduce financing of corporate takeovers, smaller banks that are not as much in the public limelight may take up some of the slack.
"Let's face it," another expert in takeovers said, "the desire of one company to buy another does not go away just because interest rates are high. And if they can't find the money from big New York banks, there are plenty of out-of-town banks that are willing to participate."
He noted that Volcker so far has not specifically mentioned takeovers, which makes it easier for smaller banks to follow a different course than the big money center banks.
Even Citibank's Palmer said he is not so sure that financing of corporate acquisition contributes to inflation. However, Palmer said, in times like these when much tighter Federal Reserve policies make credit tighter, the public can get upset when loans are made for purposes such as takeovers -- which many consider unproductive -- rather than for other purposes.