District of Columbia bankers say they are beginning to feel the impact of the recession, but the effects aren't all bad.
Neither companies nor consumers are showing much interest in taking out new loans these days, reported many finanical executives attending the D.C. Bankers Association convention here. Demand is soft for auto loans, home mortgage and even routine business borrowing.
Deliquencies are up at many banks, as families struggle to pay off the record consumer debt accumulated over the past couple of years, and firms find their cash flow curtailed by lack of business.
At Riggs National Bank, the District's biggest, slow-pay problems are showing up among both credit card customers and Riggsline personal credit accounts, said President Daniel J. Callahan Jr., who will be the next chief executive of the local bankers' group.
Yet consumers who have the cash are wiping out their obligations faster than usual, by paying more than the monthly minimum required on their accounts and cutting new purchases, the bankers say.
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They are also putting money back into their savings accounts, producing a positive flow of funds after months of declines, said G. J. Manderfield, who now heads First American Bank of Maryland and will become president of Suburban Trust Co. next month.
But the best development -- for borrowers and bankers alike -- is the rapid decline in interest rates.
Lower rates will mean not only cheaper money for consumers, but also better profits for lenders.
Contrary to what many people assume, banks do not usually do well when rates are rising rapidly, as they did earlier this year. Banks couldn't keep up the pace: they would make a loan one month and by the next, find rates had jumped a couple of points. Even many floating rate loans -- tied to the prime -- had caps that were set when no one believed prime would ever get to 20 percent.
The spread between what a bank had to pay for money and what it could charge for it shrank or vanished, and bank earnings suffered.
Now that rates are falling, the usual lag is working in the banks' favor. The spread has widened to four or five percentage points and profits will improve dramatically, predicts American Security Corp. Chairman W. Jarvis Moody.
But bankers are still worried about the recession. That was one of the things they talked about most often when not distracted by the gossip, golf courses and great food at The Homestead, where District bankers gather every year.
The venerable mountain resort is itself a victim of the recession. Even in the peak months of May and June, there is rarely a full house. Some employes have already been laid off. More layoffs are expected by Bath County residents who are closely attuned to the fortunes of their area's biggest business.
The anxiety about the economic outlook was evident when Under Secretary of Commerce Luther Hodges Jr. refered to "the recession of 1980-81" in a talk to the bankers on Friday morning.
Hodge was asked if that meant the Carter administration is predicting the downturn will continue into next year. Not willing to put himself on the record as expecting a two-year recession, Hodges assured the bankers the economy would begin to recover by the end of this year.
But no quick rebound was predicted by Federal Reserve Board member Nancy Teeters, who delivered the main economic outlook address.
Stressing that she was expressing her own views as an economist and not speaking for the Fed, Teeters said neither consumers nor businesses are in a position to provide the spending needed to spur a quick recovery.
During the last recession, businesses got stuck with huge inventories they could not sell, slashed their own orders for more merchandise and then had to rebuild inventories rapidly when recovery began . This time they have managed their inventories more carefully.
As for individuals, Teeters said, "the consumer is not going to be the source of strength" because "the consumer is in no shape to start borrowing again."
Consumer debt fell by $2 billion last month because of the faster repayments reported by bankers -- but families still are burdened by heavy obligations, Teeters said.