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  Economics focus:Rate of decline

  IN AMERICA retail banking is still a local business. Around 95% of the country's deposittakers are "community" banks, estimates those institutions' trade body; and more than 90% have assets of less than $1 billion, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), a regulator. Even Bank of America, which comes closest to having a national network, has branches in only 29 of the 50 states. Nevertheless, banking is much less local than it used to be. Advances in technology have made it far easier to offer banking services regionally or nationally. And deregulation has swept away restrictions that once prevented banks from extending their branch networks across state boundaries (even, in some states, within them). Thanks mainly to a wave of mergers, but also to a spate of bank failures in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the number of banks in America has fallen by half in the past 20 years.
  Big banks have some obvious advantages over small ones. They can raise money more cheaply than smaller banks, notably in the financial markets, and can therefore offer keener lending rates. Their assets are more diversified and therefore less risky when taken as a group. They may be able to supply a broader range of services for which fees can be charged.
  That said, the small fry are not helpless when bigger fish swim into their pool. Precisely because of big banks' easier access to financial markets, they rely less on deposits for their funding. There is evidence that they offer customers meaner deposit rates-and hence make local banks' life easier in this respect. They also tend to offer all savers the same rate, at least within one state, whereas local banks react more nimbly to local economic conditions. Research also suggests that multimarket banks charge higher fees than local banks do. And diseconomies as well as economies of scale can come into play. Frequently, merging banks lose some deposits, as customers disgruntled by a big, impersonal institution take their money elsewhere-sometimes to one of the 100-odd new banks set up in America each year.
  In a forthcoming paper,Allen Berger, of the Federal Reserve, Astrid Dick, of the New York Fed, the late Lawrence Goldberg, of the University of Miami, and Lawrence White, of New York University's Stern School of Business, weigh two hypotheses about banking mergers. On the one hand, consolidation may have been born of efficiency, as technological progress improved the profitability of large institutions serving several markets faster than that of small, local banks. On the other, mergers may have been the children of hubris, as chief executives sought scale for its own sake. Efficiency based mergers should have made life harder for small, singlemarket banks; hubris should have helped them.
  The authors compare the profitability of small banks operating in only one local market in two periods, 1982-1990 and 1991-2000. They find that in the first period, competition from out of town did them more good than harm; their returns on equity were higher if they were up against banks that were big, served many markets or both. In the second period, though, the effect was reversed. In other words, between the 1980s and 1990s bank consolidation became less hubristic and more efficient, to the detriment of small, local banks-thanks, say the authors, largely to developments in technology.
  It appears that local banks suffered both lost revenues, as the interlopers stole their fees and interest on loans, and also higher costs, as they offered higher deposit rates or spent more on advertising or service to keep hold of their customers. Looking at an alternative measure of local banks' profitability, the authors suggest that their competitors became sharper at serving several markets, rather than exploiting sheer scale.



  在美国,零售银行业仍局限于本地化经营。根据银行业组织的估计,美国95%左右的储蓄被"社区"银行所吸收;监管机构联邦存托担保集团(FDIC)的数据显示,超过90%的银行注册资本低于10亿美元。美国银行(Bank of America)的经营网络在同业中最接近全国化,也只在全国的50个州中的29个有分支机构。但与过去相比,银行业的本地化程度已经大为降低。技术进步使银行提供地区性或全国性的服务比以前简单得多。另外,国家对金融业的放松管制扫除了曾经阻碍银行进行跨州扩张的限制(甚至某些州内的扩张)。在过去20年内,美国银行数目已剧减一半,其中合并的浪潮起主要作用,80年代末到90年代初一大批银行的接连破产也是另一个重要原因。
  一篇即将发表的论文(作者是联邦储备局的Allen Berger,纽约联邦储备银行的Astrid Dick,迈阿密大学已故的Lawrence Glodberg和纽约大学斯特恩商学院的Lawrence White)权衡了两个关于银行合并的假说。一方面,合并因效率而生,因为技术进步对盈利能力的提升作用,在服务多个市场的大机构比小的地方银行来得更快。另一方面,合并会滋生傲慢情绪,因为公司高层会为了自身的利益而盲目追求规模。高效率的合并会使市场单一的小银行更难生存;大银行的傲慢反而有利于他们。
  这四位作者对1982-1990 和1991-2000两个时期内只在单一市场经营的小银行的盈利能力进行了对比。他们发现在前一时期,外来的竞争利大于弊;如果对手是服务多个市场的大银行,小银行的股票收益就会增加。在第二个时期,竞争却起相反的作用。换言之,从80年代到90年代,技术的进步使银行的合并变得越来越理性和高效,从而对小的地方银行产生损害。






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