If you have forgotten the credit crunch it appears you have company: U.S. banks are lending again.
Bank earnings reports and data from the Federal Reserve confirm that, at long last, banks are beginning to step up lending, a much-needed ingredient for a stronger and more sustainable recovery.
The good news is that lending is growing to commercial and industrial companies — exactly where you want to see growth if the U.S. is going to address its unsustainable dependence on domestic consumption. That’s good so far as it goes, but with a fragile euro and an undervalued yuan the upside is decidedly limited.
That’s because, in part, consumers are still quite restrained, or are being restrained, at least to judge by weak to middling lending levels to consumers and to support house purchases.
With 17 of the top 25 U.S. banks by assets having reported earnings, a lending turnaround is in evidence. Among the 10 largest regional banks, loan books expanded by 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter, according to FBR Capital markets, and nudged up slightly at the four mega-banks. This compares to a 2 percent shrinkage in the previous quarter and real carnage in the two years before that.