Federal bank regulators today will propose a series of measures intended to restrain foreign lending by U.S. banks, Congress was told yesterday.
The promise was made by Federal Reserve Board Governor Henry Wallich and Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan, who testified before a subcommittee of the House Banking Committee in favor of a controversial $8.5 billion increase in the United States' participation in the International Monetary Fund, which Regan called essential to the nation's interest.
Critics of the proposed increase in contributions to the IMF charge that the move is essentially a bail-out of big U.S. banks that loaned more money than they should have to financially strapped countries such as Brazil and Mexico. The IMF makes loans to troubled nations and in return extracts belt-tightening measures from them.
Regan and Wallich would not reveal the precise package of regulatory proposals to restrain foreign lending--some of which could require congressional action--but administration sources said the regulators want to change the way banks report income from the fees they earn on arranging foreign loans.
Now the fees--often 1 percent or more of the total loan--are reported as income in the year the loan is made. The proposals would force the bank to spread the fee income over the life of the loan, sources said.
Wallich said other proposals that regulators are talking about include putting limits on the amount of money banks can lend to an individual country, increasing disclosure of bank lending practices, and requiring special reserves for foreign loans.
Regan yesterday presented the subcommittee with the two major prongs of the administration's campaign to convince a skeptical and wary Congress that it should approve the U.S. portion of a roughly 50 percent increase in the IMF's total resources--the promise to restrain the banks and the argument that the measure is in the nation's interest.
Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) told Regan that Congress must find a "responsible quid pro quo" for the IMF funding measure that would "rein in the unbridled growth in bank lending of the last two decades."
He said that, without the IMF to provide assistance to troubled nations, the world trading system could break down--and with it the millions of jobs provided by the roughly $260 billion in goods the United States exports each year. Each $1 billion in exports creates about 25,000 jobs, he said.
Legislators such as Rep. Marge Roukema (R-N.J.) pressed Regan to give them good arguments to sway both the full House and their increasingly protectionist constituents that the IMF bill makes sense. Regan said that debt-laden countries have cut back sharply on their imports, hitting U.S. businesses hard.
Wallich said that the International Monetary Fund contributes to stabilizing the economies of countries such as Mexico and Brazil "and makes possible a more rapid growth of U.S. exports to these countries."
Exports to developing countries that are not members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (major oil exporter Mexico is not a member) have been growing faster than other U.S. exports, Regan said.