Congress should impose another moratorium on foreign takeovers of large U.S. banks, a Housing Banking subcommittee was told by two witnesses yesterday. Members of the subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Fernand St Germain (D-R.I.) were mostly critical of the recent spate of acquisitions, but it is unlikely that any legislation will be approved before next week's scheduled recess for the election.
Rep. Henry Reuss (D-Wis.), chairman of the full Banking Committee, said recently in an interview that he would not support a new moratorium on foreign purchases of American banks. Congress imposed a three-month moratorium on such takeovers in the spring. Just after it was lifted, the British Midland Bank announced a bid for Crocker Bank of San Francisco. If this goes ahead, Crocker would be the largest U.S. bank ever bought by overseas interests.
Comptroller General Elmer B. Staats recommended yesterday that Congress enact a moratorium on foreign purchases of U.S. banks with assets of $100 million or more, saying the present law is biased toward foreign banks and against American banks.
However, this should "not be viewed as a long-term solution to the problem," he said in a statement to the committee. Laws restricting interstate banking prevent U.S. banks from buying banks across the state lines. Changes in these laws are being considered, and Staats said Congress would "have to make changes in order to make it fair" between foreign and domestic banks.
St Germain referred angrily to the fact that a report from the White House requested by Congress has not yet been delivered, although there have been press reports that it will recommend a change to allow bank holding companies to buy banks across the state line while leaving intact the prohibitions on branching across state lines.
Rep. Benjamin S. Rosenthal (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Government Operations subcommittee on commerce, consumer and monetary affairs, said to the Banking subcommittee that he had three main concerns about foreign takeovers. The first is the mixing of banking and commerce, which is typical in foreign institutions but not allowed for American interests. His second concern was the role of foreign-owned banks in voting for the directors of the Federal Reserve banks, and the third was the difficulty of regulating foreign-owned banks.
The federal regulating agencies -- the Federal Reserve Board and the Comptroller of the Currency -- are "not quite up to" dealing with the whole problem of foreign takeovers, Rosenthal said. Their view is that foreigners have typically had a good effect on the banks which they have taken over and that their presence is "procompetitive," he said.