On February 5, 2010, the federal banking regulators and the Conference of State Bank Supervisors issued an Interagency Statement on the Credit Needs of Creditworthy Small Business Borrowers. The Statement builds upon principles set forth in the October 2009 Policy Statement on Prudent Commercial Real Estate Loan Workouts. After noting the overall decline in loans to small businesses and the reasons for that decline the regulators suggested that lenders may have become overly cautious with respect to small business lending. They encourage lenders to engage in prudent small business lending and that that examiners will not criticize lenders for working in prudent and constructive manner with small businesses.
The decline in small business lending has many reasons, not the least of which is that loan demand is actually down. Lenders are also naturally cautious of lending to those businesses that are reliant solely on cash flow that has slowed due to the slowdown in consumer spending and the decline ion the personal wealth of the owners of the businesses. Despite the assertions to the contrary by the regulators, lenders are concerned that there is a disconnect between statements from Washington, DC and what actually happens in the field when examiners are onsite at financial institutions. Our experience seems to show that local federal regulators do not see any upside in being flexible when faced with making decisions about how to rate credits. Lenders are therefore naturally reluctant to maker decisions based on guidance until they see it actually implemented on the ground.
On December 9, 2009, Treasury Secretary Geithner exercised his discretion to extend the TARP program through October 3, 2010. In his letter to Congress certifying the extension, Geithner indicated that the Treasury Department would limit new commitments in 2010 to three areas:
- mitigating foreclosure;
- “recently launched initiatives to provide capital to small and community banks, which are important sources of credit for small businesses” (including additional efforts to facilitate small business lending); and
- increasing Treasury’s commitment to the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF).
The “recently launched initiatives to provide capital to small and community banks, which are important sources of credit for small businesses” presumably refers to the new capital program for community banks previously announced by President Obama on October 21, 2009. President Obama had indicated that the Treasury would be developing a program to provide TARP capital to community banks with less than $1 billion in total assets who committed to increase small business lending. The capital investment, as proposed, would be limited to 2% of risk-weighted assets and would carry a 3% dividend rate for the first five years. No indications were provided that the Treasury’s viability standard would be modified to permit additional banks to participate.
Secretary Geithner’s reference to this program is the first follow-up we’ve heard since Obama’s announcement. As recently as last week, local FDIC officials were telling us that the program appeared to be “dead on arrival” in DC, and there appeared to be little support in Washington for further developments. We understand the FDIC was advising interested banks to not anticipate any further action, and to seek capital elsewhere.
It remains to be seen whether Secretary Geithner’s letter to Congress represents a renewed interest in this program, merely a political statement indicating a focus on small business lending, or a simple preservation of flexibility going forward.
On October 21, 2009, President Obama announced the broad outlines of a new program to provide additional capital to community banks in an effort to spur lending to smaller business.
Actual facts about the new program are currently very sparse. A review of the currently available information does provide some details that may be attractive to community banks that current have TARP CPP funds, as well as those that currently do not have funds. However, it does not appear that there will be any change in the Treasury’s determination of which community banks are eligible for TARP funds; participating institutions appear to still need to be viable without the funds.
There are three basic sources of official information:
- the text of President Obama’s speech in Landover, Maryland;
- the press release announcing the speech; and
- a fact sheet on the President’s Small Business Lending Initiatives.
- The funds will be available to “viable banks with less than $1 billion in assets.” The announcement does not give any indication that the Treasury will alter its existing viability standards.
- Participants will be required to submit a small business lending plan explaining how the additional capital will allow them to increase lending to small businesses, and will be required to submit quarterly reports detailing their small business lending activities.
- The initial dividend rate will be 3% rather than the 5% required under the current TARP Capital Purchase Program. The dividend will rise to 9% after five years, consistent with the existing TARP Capital Purchase Program. Presumably, Subchapter S institutions will receive a comparable reduction in the rate paid on the subordinated debt.
- The amount of capital is limited to 2% or the institution’s risk-weighted assets. This is less than the 3% permitted under the existing TARP Capital Purchase Program, and less than the 5% currently permitted for institutions that are less than $500 million in total assets.
- The Treasury is working to finalize program terms “in the coming weeks.”
- The Treasury will also determine how to handle existing Capital Purchase Program participants to allow them to replace existing capital with investments under the new program (effectively reducing their dividend costs in exchange for a commitment to increase small business lending).
- Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), including CDFI credit unions, will be able to apply for funds with a dividend rate of 2% for eight years, after which it will increase to 9%.