The outgoing president of the American Bankers Association, C.C. Hope Jr., today accused President Carter of electioneering in his recent criticism of banks for raising interest rates.
Hope told reporters at the ABA's annual convention here that there is wide understanding in the nation that inflation and increased borrowing costs for banks both add to interest rates.
He praised Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker for his tough stance on money policy, saying he was "convenced that he (Volcker) was on the right track." Hope rejected the suggestion that banks are now raising interest rates in an attempt to boost profit margins that were squeezed earlier in the year.
He pointed out that the prime rate of all but one of the major banks is still 13 1/2 percent. Citibank moved to 14 percent 10 days ago.
Volcker, who will address the bankers Tuesday, appeared to criticize the industry recently for being quicker to boost interest rates than to lower them. iBut Hope would not comment directly on this, saying that just as "it costs more today to make hot dogs" and automobiles, so it costs more to borrow and lend money. Volcker knows that, and he knows that competitive pressures would stop banks from charging too-high rates, Hope added.
The banker said that the last 12 months had been a remarkable year for his industry. Inflation and deregulation are the two major issues for bankers now, he noted.
The granting of checking facilities to thrift institutions is one of the most significant challenges facing the commercial banking industry. Hope went on. It will increase the competition for banks, whose future will depend more than ever before on strong and better management, he told reporters. Small and medium-sized banks are particularly threatened by the changes now coming in the banking industry, he added.
As the Washington-based association that represents commercial banking as a whole, the ABA faces conflicting pressure on the question of potential change in the structure of the industry.
"I don't know of any one person in the ABA who would attempt officially to take a position yet" on the question of relaxing restrictions on interstate banking, Hope told reporters.
The White House is currently preparing a study of the laws that restrict interstate branching and banking. Thus far, the ABA has supported the right of individual states to have their own regulations governing branching, Hope said. But he indicated that the industry accepts that it is now moving into a period of change.
He siad deregulation should not be "helter skelter," but should proceed at an orderly pace so that small and medium-sized banks would not be treated unfaily and inequitably. However, Hope did not expand on how this should be done.
He acknowledged that the number of banks across the nation would have to shrink from the present 14,700 if the proposed changes in regulations were made. He said he did not think that the number of financial institutions -- including banks, thrifts, credit unions and money market funds -- would dwindle from the current 40,000 to the 2,000 or 3,000 that has been discussed. There could be 8,000 to 9,000 banks, he said.
He appeared to argue against deregulation in the industry, saying that every institution, including small and medium-sized ones, should have an equal change in the marketplace, but he said that he was broadly in favor of easing regulations.
Hope predicted a reversal in several months of last week's Fed ruling against some aspects of the Citibank Choice credit card. He also pointed out that the ABA is pushing for more latitude for banks to complete freely with the fast-growing money market funds.