Amid warnings from some top government officials that taxpayers could get stuck bailing out the banking system, top federal officials told Congress yesterday that they may ease regulatory standards on real estate loans to free up bank credit.
Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady, who is also chairman of the oversight board of the Resolution Trust Corp., the federal thrift cleanup agency, endorsed such a move in comments before a House Banking Committee hearing that was supposed to deal with funding for the cleanup of the S&L industry but also embraced the problems with the nations banks.
If regulations have placed "unusual burdens" on banks, said Brady, "they should be reexamined ... to see if they make sense."
"This is not forbearance in my opinion, it's foresight," he said. He advocated "common sense regulation," saying "the written word can be interpreted a number of ways... . It's not holy writ."
Others at the meeting issued stern warnings that taxpayers may get saddled with bailing out the banking system as they have S&Ls.
"If you see the cost of the S&L bailout is high, wait till you see the cost of the bailout of other financial institutions in this country," said Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp, also an oversight board member.
"Let me remind everyone that there may be another financial bailout coming down the tracks for the bank insurance fund," committee Chairman Henry Gonzalez (D-Tex.) warned committee members. "We had better get this savings and loan bailout train in working order and moving before the bank train roars into the station."
Brady and other members of the RTC Oversight Board, including Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, told the committee that the RTC needs $77 billion this fiscal year to continue disposing of failed thrifts and paying off depositors.
On the subject of the credit crunch, both Brady and Greenspan talked about the strict way regulators now write down real estate loans. Property is being appraised at what it would bring at a liquidation sale in today's depressed market, instead of valued based on its income generating potential and its expected long-term worth.