Monday, March 9, 2009

B of A Chairman Ken Lewis Speaks Out

Here is a link to an op-ed piece from the Wall Street Journal that was penned by Ken Lewis, Chairman from Bank of America. Of course, Bank of America has a vested interest in what happens from here - with its shares currently trading at $3.75. Even still, Mr. Lewis attempts to put a glass-is-half-full spin on things and dispel the rumors that the market takes for reality.

Mr. Lewis debunks six widely held myths in his letter. Here are my favorite three:
- The banks aren't lending. This claim is simply not true. Yes, banks have tightened lending standards after a period in which standards were too lax. But, according to Federal Reserve data, bank credit has actually increased over the course of this recession, and business lending is trending up modestly so far in 2009. Also, mortgage finance volume is booming as a result of low interest rates. What's gone from the system is the easy credit that got us into this mess, as unregulated nonbank lenders have disappeared, and the market for many asset-backed securities has all but dried up. Most banks are making as many loans as we responsibly can, given the recessionary environment.

- The banks are insolvent. In the past 18 months, we've seen fewer than 50 bank failures. That compares to about 2,000 failures or closings of commercial banks or savings institutions between 1986 and 1991. There may be more to come, but the vast majority of banks will weather this economic storm.

- Taxpayers have given the banks billions and won't get their money back. TARP funds are not charity. Banks that received TARP funds will make about $13 billion in dividend payments to the U.S. Treasury this year. TARP funds are loans yielding anywhere from 5% to 8% interest. This is a win-win: Banks are getting the capital they need, and taxpayers are getting a strong return on their investment.

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