Sunday, October 21, 2007

US loan default problems widen

Courtesy of The Financial Times
By Ben White in New York

Published: October 21 2007 19:21 | Last updated: October 21 2007 19:21

Poor quarterly results from banks across the US over the past two weeks suggest credit problems once confined to high-risk mortgage borrowers are spreading across the consumer landscape, posing new risks to the economy and weighing heavily on the markets.

US banks have raised reserves for loan losses by at least $6bn over the second quarter and by even larger amounts from last year, indicating financial executives believe consumers will be increasingly unable to make payments on a variety of loans.

Banks are adding to reserves not just for defaults on mortgages, but also on home equity loans, car loans and credit cards.

“What started out merely as a subprime problem has expanded more broadly in the mortgage space and problems are getting worse at a faster pace than many had expected,” said Michael Mayo, Deutsche Bank analyst.

“On top of this, there is an uptick in auto loan problems, which may or may not be seasonal, and there is more body language from the banks that the state of the consumer was somewhat less strong [than thought].”

Dick Bove, analyst at Punk Ziegel, said bank earnings indicated “there are problems with consumer debt that extend beyond the well-known issues in the real estate markets. Auto loans are clearly a new area of concern”. At Wachovia, the fourth largest US bank by assets, credit loss provisions more than doubled from the second quarter to $408m.

Troubled loans that could turn into losses also more than doubled. Ken Thompson, chief executive, said the housing market could remain weak through next year. Wachovia’s poor earnings fuelled a stock market rout on Friday.

Problems can be seen at banks across the US. At KeyCorp, in Cleveland, non-performing assets rose $241m from last year and loan-loss provisions doubled. In Dallas, Comerica’s loan loss provisions tripled from last year to $45m. Net credit losses jumped from $663m last year to $892 at Wells Fargo, in San Francisco, due to home equity and car loan losses. Loans more than 90 days past due and still accruing increased to $5.53bn from $3.66bn last year.

“There has been a fast sea-change in thinking,” said Rick Klingman, interest rate trader at BNP Paribas. “Stocks are showing some real concern about bank earnings and there are worries about credit in general.”

Additional reporting by Michael Mackenzie in New York

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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