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Working Papers

May 2015, No. 15-05

Did the Financial Reforms of the Early 1990s Fail? A Comparison of Bank Failures and FDIC Losses in the 1986-92 and 2007-13 Periods

Eliana Balla, Edward S. Prescott and John R. Walter

Two of the most significant banking reforms to come out of the banking problems in the late 1980s and early 1990s were the increase in capital requirements from Basel 1 and the prompt corrective action (PCA) provisions of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Improvement Act of 1991 (FDICIA). The PCA provisions require regulators to shut down banks before book capital becomes negative. We compare failures and FDIC losses on commercial banks in the pre-FDICIA commercial bank crisis of the mid-1980s to early 1990s with that in the recent financial crisis. Using a sample of community and mid-sized banks, we find that almost all the same bank characteristics predict failure and high losses in the two crises. Our results imply that for these classes of banks, the two crises were very similar. We find that the failure rate in the recent period was driven more by severe economic conditions than by the increased concentrations in real estate lending. The analysis suggests that the combination of PCA with higher capital levels helped reduce failure rates in the recent period. In contrast, the analysis suggests that the reforms did not help with FDIC losses. FDIC losses on failed commercial banks were approximately 14% of failed bank assets over the 1986-92 period but increased to approximately 24% over the 2007-13 period. We find that the increased losses are not explained by variations in bank balance sheets or local economic conditions. Finally, we find that a discretionary accounting variable, interest accrued but not yet received, is predictive of both failure and higher FDIC losses.

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