The nation's federal bank supervisors yesterday proposed a series of new regulations to Congress designed to restrain U.S. banks' international lending practices.
But the regulators--the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the comptroller of the currency--refused to put limits on the amount of money a bank can lend to an individual country. Bankers are limited in the amount of money they can lend to an individual or a company in the United States.
The regulators also asked Congress not to pass any "rigid or inconsistent legislative rules" that would limit their ability to adapt the program or discourage necessary international lending.
The regulations were triggered by the cash crisis among many developing countries such as Mexico and Brazil that borrowed heavily from international banks and now are having difficulty repaying those debts.
Congress has been pressuring the regulators to find ways to keep U.S. banks from making too many risky loans to foreign countries. The loans made by the top nine U.S. banks to three developing countries--Brazil, Mexico and Argentina--exceed the total capital of those banks.
Many legislators have said that, unless limits are placed on U.S. bank lending, they would be unwilling to approve an increase in the U.S. participation in the International Monetary Fund, the multilateral financial rescue agency that makes loans to countries in economic distress.
Rep. Fernand St Germain (D-R.I.), chairman of the House Banking Committee, said that he is skeptical of the five-point plan outlined by the regulators. The same agencies that stood by while banks made excessive loans to developing countries "are asking that we trust them one more time," St Germain said.
A spokeswoman for the comptroller of the currency said that it is not clear when the five-point plan will go into effect, although she said regulators feel they do not need congressional approval. The plan would:
* Strengthen the current program in which bank examiners warn bank managements when the examiners feel a bank's foreign loans are too risky. The regulators said they would require banks with foreign loans that are too concentrated in one or a few countries to have more capital than banks that diversify their foreign lending.
* Require banks to make more frequent and more extensive public reports of their overseas loans to give depositors and investors more information about the banks in which they place funds. Investors might foresake banks whose practices they distrust or might force them to behave differently.
* Force lenders to establish special reserves against loans to sovereign countries when those loans are not being repaid properly. The reserves would come out of current earnings, but would not apply to countries that have rescheduled their debts and are paying them back under the new terms. Many banks do not establish reserves against delinquent governments, arguing that, unlike companies, goverments do not go out of business.
* Make banks spread over the life of the loan the income they get from most fees they are paid when a loan is made. Because the fees boost current earnings, they can be an "artificial incentive" to making foreign loans, the regulators said.
* Increase the coordination among U.S. bank supervisors, foreign regulators and the International Monetary Fund to reduce risky lending and to monitor the indebtedness of the world's nations.