Chase Manhattan Bank president Willard C. Butcher said today that the domestic and international economic environment is "the most uncertain I can recall in my better than three decades as a banker."
Butcher told shareholders that, because of political turmoil across the globe -- from Iran to Nicaragua -- and a growing surplus among oil-producing countries, the nation's third largest bank has set up a "24-hour-a-day" group to monitor economic and social developments around the world.
"This new country risk-management group is staffed with senior-line bankers as well as international economists and seasoned political analysts," Butcher said.
Under questioning from stockholders," Butcher said that the bank's portfolio of loans to Third World and Eastern European countries is in "sound condition." Chase has about $6.8 billion in loans to developing countries and "several hundred million dollars" of loans to Eastern European countries.
"From time to time and from country to country" Chase has had to ease the repayment schedule of loans, he told the shareholders, but on balance the "repayment record is good."
Nevertheless, Butcher conceded in prepared remarks, Chase Manhattan officials are becoming more selective in making loans to developing countries.
Countries such as Jamaica and Brazil have found the loan windows closed at New York banks in recent weeks.
Butcher said that Chase will do its best to comply with President Carter's new anti-inflation program which seeks to hold down the growth of overall, bank lending, restrict consumer borrowing and curtail bank credit aimed at financing corporate takeovers and speculation.
Even as Butcher, and Chase chairman David Rockefeller, were voicing apprehension about the future, they recorded that in 1979 and in the first quarter of 1980, New York's second biggest bank is reporting solid gains and has overcome a perilous decline in earnings and rate of return that put the bank on the comptroller of the Currency's watch list in 1975.
For the first time since 1970, Chase Manhattan Corp., parent of Chase Bank, reported quarterly earnings bigger than its chief New York rival, Citicorp, which owns Citibank, the nation's second biggest bank.
Citibank has made a much bigger foray into the consumer banking area than has Chase. Because of interest rate ceilings in New York, Citibank plans to move its credit card operations to South Dakota, where no usury ceilings exist.
Butcher told shareholders at the Chase meeting that while Chase is concerned about the ceilings, it has no plans now to move its operations, although the bank has studied such a relocation of its credit card operation.
In Houston, where Citicorp held its annual meeting today, Chairman Walter Wriston said that the bank's performance will be helped by moving its credit card operations to South Dakota. He told reporters after the meeting that the move, coupled with a drop in interest rates of 4 to 5 per cent, "could be worth more than $100 million in earnings," Dow Jones reported.
Wriston told shareholders at the meeting that he thinks interest rates may have peaked. At Citicorp, as at most banks, the prime lending is 20 percent.