ECONOMIC INDICATORS

Banks use $1.77T stockpile to double treasury buying

BLOOMBERG FILE PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI
THE U.S. FEDERAL Reserve building stands in Washington, D.C., U.S.
Posted 8/20/12

NEW YORK - The gap between U.S. bank deposits and loans is growing at the fastest pace in two years, providing lenders with more funds to buy bonds and temper the biggest sell-off in Treasuries since 2010.

As deposits increased 3.3 percent to $8.88 trillion in the two months ended July 31, business lending rose 0.7 percent to $7.11 trillion, Federal Reserve data show. The record gap of $1.77 trillion has expanded 15 percent since May, the biggest similar-period gain since July, 2010. Banks have already bought $136.4 billion in Treasury and government agency debt this year, more than double the $62.6 billion in all of 2011, pushing their holdings to an all-time high of $1.84 trillion.

Faced with a slowing U.S. economy, unemployment above 8 percent for more than three years and regulations forcing them to hold more and higher-quality assets, banks are lending at below pre-recession levels. The bond purchases help explain why even after rising this month, Treasury 10-year note rates are about half the 3.5 percent median forecast of 43 economists in a Bloomberg survey a year ago.

“Bank deposits continue to explode and in turn they continue to buy Treasuries as the economy loses momentum, inflation is trending down, Europe continues to hang over our heads and political uncertainty reigns” said Michael Mata, a money manager in Atlanta at ING Investment Management Americas, which oversees about $160 billion. “There is no reason for interest rates to climb in any meaningful way any time soon.”

Borrowing rises

While the gap has narrowed to $1.75 trillion as of Aug. 8 as lending of $7.12 trillion trailed $8.87 trillion in deposits, the gap is more than 17 times the $100 billion average in the decade before credit markets seized up, Fed data show.

Commercial and industrial lending reached a peak of $1.61 trillion in October 2008, a month after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. As the credit crisis deepened, loans tumbled to $1.2 trillion two years later, before recovering to $1.46 trillion Aug. 1.

The recent rise isn’t keeping up with record bank deposits as savings of U.S. households have risen to 4.4 percent of incomes as of June from 1.7 percent in 2007, the data show.

“Every bank is looking for a way to increase their yield,” said Mike Pearce, president of Bank of The West in Grapevine, Texas, whose company has been purchasing government securities after deposits grew faster than loans in 2010 and 2011. Instead of earning the Federal Funds rate of zero to 0.25 percent on the deposits, its bond holdings are yielding about 3.25 percent, he said.

Seeking safety

Bank Treasury holdings reached $500 billion, the highest since June 2011, even with interest rates minus inflation for benchmark 10-year notes of 0.38 percent, compared to the average of 1.26 percent over the past decade.

Yields on 10-year Treasury notes rose 15 basis points, or 0.15 percentage point, last week to 1.81 percent. The price of the 1.625 percent security maturing in August 2022 declined 1 12/32, or $13.75 per $1,000 face value, or 98 9/32. The yield advanced three basis points to 1.84 percent today.

They increased from a record low 1.379 percent on July 25 as investors became more optimistic about the economy. The U.S. added 163,000 jobs last month, a government report showed Aug. 3, more than the 100,000 projected by analysts. Sales at U.S. retailers increased 0.8 percent, more than the 0.3 percent forecast and following a 0.5 percent slide in June, Commerce Department data released Aug. 14 showed.

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