FDIC faces US$23bil in costs from bank failures

Under pressure: Gruenberg testifies during a House Committee on Financial Services hearing on recent bank failures. He is chairman of the FDIC. — AFP

NEW YORK: The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC), facing almost US$23bil (RM102bil) in costs from recent bank failures, is considering steering a larger-than-usual portion of that burden to the nation’s biggest banks, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The agency has said it plans to propose a so-called special assessment on the industry in May to shore up a US$128bil (RM566bil) deposit insurance fund that’s set to take hits after the recent collapses of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) and Signature Bank.

The regulator – under political pressure to spare small banks – has noted it has latitude in how it sets those fees.

Behind the scenes, officials are looking to limit the strain on community lenders by shifting an outsize portion of the expense toward much larger institutions, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.

That would add to what already may be multibillion-dollar tabs, apiece, for the likes of JPMorgan Chase & Co, Bank of America Corp and Wells Fargo & Co.

The KBW Regional Banking Index of 50 lenders reversed losses and rose 0.6% on Wednesday in New York after Bloomberg reported the FDIC’s internal deliberations. Shares of large banks pared gains but recovered by the close of trading amid a broader market rally.

Talks for setting the size and timing of the assessment are in early stages. Leaning heavily on big banks is seen as the most politically palatable solution, some of the people said, asking not to be named describing private deliberations.

Representatives for the FDIC, JPMorgan, Bank of America and Wells Fargo declined to comment.

The question of how to spread the cost of SVB’s and Signature’s failures is already a hot topic in Washington, where lawmakers have pressed FDIC chairman Martin Gruenberg, treasury secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell over who will shoulder the burden – especially after an unusual decision to backstop all of those banks’ deposits.

The extraordinary measure saved legions of tech startups and wealthy customers whose balances far exceeded the FDIC’s typical US$250,000 (RM1.1mil) limit on coverage.

“I’m concerned that Arkansans will have to subsidise Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank deposits, and maybe others that come forward,” Republican senator John Boozman told Yellen at a hearing last week.

“Will the community banks get charged that special assessment?”

She assured him the FDIC has leeway in deciding which banks will pay.

“We’re going to be keenly sensitive to the impact,” Gruenberg added at a hearing on Wednesday, when asked about the strain on community banks.

“We have the discretion to tailor that assessment to the institutions that most directly benefited.”

The mess that toppled SVB and Signature Bank was, in at least one way, a boon to the nation’s largest banks. Both of those lenders had soaked up billions in uninsured deposits that proved fickle, forcing the firms to incur losses in hasty asset sales.

In the fallout, customers at small banks across the country moved cash to giant banks, showering those lenders with cheap funding.

Banks pay into the FDIC’s insurance fund every quarter as they soak up deposits qualifying for the agency’s protection. As long as the banks find ways to earn even more by lending out or investing the cash, they earn a profit.

The FDIC’s fees vary widely. The 2010 Dodd-Frank regulatory overhaul required the agency to consider a bank’s size when setting individual rates.

A firm’s complexity and confidential regulatory ratings can play roles too. That means a big bank not only pays more because it houses more deposits, but also because its rate is steeper.

When the FDIC’s main fund suffers a blow, the agency can impose a special assessment to speed up the process of refilling its coffers – and it can tailor how it sets those rates.

In addition to looking at which firms may have benefited, officials may consider “economic conditions, the effects on the industry, and such other factors as the FDIC deems appropriate and relevant,” Gruenberg told the Senate in written testimony this week.

Once the agency is ready to propose a formula in May, it will seek input “from all stakeholders,” he said. — Bloomberg

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FDIC , deposits , bankfailures , costs , specialassessment , Fed , Powell


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