Deepening real estate problems in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and other East Coast states are seriously weakening the nation's banks, federal regulators reported yesterday.
In its quarterly analysis of the health of the banking system, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said New England has already replaced the Southwest as the region with the most rapidly growing real estate problems and the troubles are now spreading down the Atlantic Coast.
Banks' real estate loan troubles grew faster in Maryland and the District than anywhere else in the country, the FDIC said. The total dollar value of real estate loans that are not being paid on time in the two jurisdictions doubled in just three months.
Economists in recent months have said the country is experiencing "a rolling real estate recession" that has moved from the Southwest to New England, and FDIC officials made it clear yesterday that it is not standing still.
FDIC Chairman L. William Seidman said it is too soon to tell whether the growing real estate loan problems and slumping profits will lead to more bank failures, but it clearly is a sign of economic weakness.
"In the areas where we're having the real problems, things are getting worse," Seidman said. The New England states are already experiencing an economic recession, he added, and if the recession spreads across the nation, the banks' loan problems will keep growing.
The jump in oil prices triggered by events in the Middle East may be helping to revive the economies of the Southwest, Seidman said, but it is "certainly not going to be favorable in New England, where we have the most problems."
Seidman already has warned that a worsening economy could jeopardize the fund that protects depositors' savings when banks fail.
With the economy weakening, banks are becoming increasingly cautious about lending, a trend underscored by the FDIC report yesterday, which showed banks made $2 billion less in loans in the second quarter of this year than they did in the same quarter last year.
The FDIC report said "the problems of northeastern banks are dragging down" the vital signs for the entire industry. In the second quarter, 95 percent of the increase in overdue real estate loans occurred in the agency's Northeast region, which includes the District, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.
The slumping real estate market was the main reason banks nationwide had to write off $8.6 billion in loans that could not be collected and to set aside $6.4 billion to cover future losses, the FDIC said. The loan losses and reserves totaled almost three times as much as the $5.3 billion in profits earned by all the banks in the country during the three months.
Total bank profits for the quarter were down 24 percent from a year ago, according to the FDIC figures, which cover only commercial banks and not savings and loan associations or savings banks.
As of June, 4.75 percent of all the real estate loans made by D.C. banks were more than 90 days past due, along with 2.06 percent of the real estate loans of Maryland banks and 1.81 percent of those of Virginia banks.
What most worries the FDIC is how quickly the bad loans are piling up in Washington area banks, the FDIC said. The number of commercial real estate loans not being paid on time jumped by 122 percent in Maryland and 100 percent at D.C. banks between April 1 and July 1.
Virginia banks' troubled realty loans increased by 39 percent, the fifth-worst record in the nation behind Delaware and New York, the FDIC said in its quarterly assessment.
The FDIC did not discuss individual banks in its review, but bankers said the statistics for the local market reflected several well-known problems. Those include the bad real estate loans that led to the failure of National Bank of Washington a few weeks ago, substantial real estate losses reported by American Security Bank in Washington and Maryland National Bank in Baltimore, and the troubles of major real estate developers such as Conrad Cafritz.
The deteriorating condition of the local real estate market stands out starkly on FDIC maps, where states in which less than 1 percent of the real estate loans have gone bad are shown in white, those with 1 percent to 3 percent bad real estate loans are in pink and states with more than 3 percent bad real estate loans are in red.
The District was the only state to slip from pink to red during the second quarter of the year, while only Maryland and Georgia went from white to pink.
Nationwide, just under 3.5 percent of all real estate loans are not being paid on time. Arizona has the worst delinquency rate -- almost 11 percent -- followed by Massachusetts at 9.18 percent, Rhode Island at 8.6 percent, Connecticut at 7.98 percent, New York at 6.79 percent, New Hampshire at 5.89 percent and Texas at 5.87 percent.