The new chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said yesterday that, if the Treasury Department's proposal to stimulate growth in heavily indebted Latin America works, it "will be a great help" to the U.S. banking system.
But L. William Seidman acknowledged that, if the plan does not work as designed, there could be an adverse impact on the nation's bank lenders.
He also said that a record 130 or so banks are expected to fail this year and a similar number will be closed next year. About 1,000 of the nation's nearly 15,000 banks are on the problem list maintained by the agency, and about half of the problem banks and the bank failures are agricultural lenders.
He said long-standing problems in the farm sector and oil industry, as well as more recent problems with many loans in the commercial real estate industry in many states, pose the biggest threats to the health of the banking industry.
Last month, Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III proposed a step-up in lending to middle-income debtor nations by private commercial banks and multinational development institutions such as the World Bank. Baker wants commercial banks to lend an additional $20 billion over the next three years, of which $7 billion would come from U.S. banks.
The Baker plan, which bankers are considering, is based on the recognition that three years of economic austerity, mainly in Latin America, could engender political and social unrest and that the long-run stability of the region requires an increase in economic growth and employment. The additional foreign loans -- many of which are supposed to be tied to reforms in Latin American economies -- are designed to provide some of the resources needed to stimulate that growth.
Seidman said during a luncheon meeting with reporters that his main concern is the safety and soundness of the U.S. banking system and "to the extent that [the debtor nations] get their economies growing, it will help the safety and soundness" of the scores of billions of dollars of loans U.S. banks already have made to the region.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. insures bank accounts up to $100,000 in nearly all the nation's banks. It also takes over the assets of banks that fail and supervises and examines the more than 8,000 state-chartered banks that are not members of the Federal Reserve system.
Seidman distanced himself somewhat from the firm positions against brokered deposits and bank disclosure that the agency took under its previous chairman, William M. Isaac.
He said that, although there are many abuses of brokered deposits -- those placed on behalf of clients by professional money finders -- they also have many benefits, including moving funds among areas of the country.
He also said the FDIC would "reconsider" proposals to require the banks it supervises to make public a a large amount of financial information designed to allow depositors, borrowers and investors to make judgments about the banks' soundness. But Seidman said that the FDIC "might not make any changes" in the disclosure rules, which are supposed to take effect Jan. 1.
Seidman also said that top officials of the financial regulatory agencies -- including the FDIC, the Fed, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Treasury and the Federal Home Loan Bank Board -- have agreed to meet "regularly" for breakfast to improve coordination of regulatory requirements.
For example, he said, the comptroller's office, which regulates about 4,700 nationally chartered banks, has proposed a different set of disclosure requirements than has the FDIC, while the Federal Reserve has proposed no disclosure rules for the 1,500 banks under its supervision.