Do we have enough banks in the U.S.?

Pirates-baseballAs I do each Friday morning, what follows are three things I’ve learned this week that apply to the financial community.  Let me start with the inspiration for today’s title and end with that for the picture of Pittsburgh’s PNC Park above.

(1) I’ve shared ideas from KBW’s Fred Cannon in the past; let me do so again based on a note he put out this Monday (FSW No New Bank Charters) that I strongly encourage you to read.  In my opinion, Fred is at the top of his field, so when he looks at the decline in new bank charters during the last two years (to zero) and wonders if we have enough banks in place today, its a thought provoking question.  To wit:

U.S. banking is being squeezed from the top, with high levels of concentration, and from the bottom, with no new banks, creating a less dynamic financial sector.  While regulators and legislators worry about the size and concentration of the largest banks, there is an equally concerning trend on the opposite side of the bank size spectrum. There have been no new bank or thrift charters issued during the past two years. This trend stands in sharp contrast to history, with dozens to hundreds of new banks starting each year, including during years of deep recessions. The lack of new bank startups may be causing limited competition for loans for small regional businesses and builders and pushing lending outside the banking system, essentially meaning that there aren’t enough banks in the country to promote maximum economic growth. Concentration and limits on size at the top end, and the dearth of new banks at the small end, will push greater market share of banking into mid-sized banks, in our view. This is good news for profitable mid-sized banks that can take advantage of both trends.

(2) t_1368782681Switching gears to the biggest of the big, we might have to honor Jamie Dimon by making it “his” week if the amount of media coverage continues for the man.  From American Banker to Bloomberg’s Businessweek to the WSJ, not a day went by without some mention of Wall Street’s “Indispensable Man.”  With JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s annual meeting in Tampa next week, our own editor thinks it should be a doozy for Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon and the company’s 11-member board. The country’s largest bank has come in for some withering criticism ever since it lost a reported $6 billion last year on a disastrous credit derivatives trading strategy.  Ah, trading credit derivatives… I wonder if they will soon replace collateralized debt obligations as the scorn of the American public.

(3) Finally, a tip of the cap to Mars National Bank near Pittsburgh for “tapping a native son’s ties to America’s pastime to raise its local profile.”  According to a piece in the American Banker, the $351 million-asset institution in Mars, Pa., has formed a marketing campaign around pitchman Neil Walker, 27, a second baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates who grew up seven miles away from the bank’s headquarters.  Mars National is “among several banks that have recently turned to sports stars to build business and spur goodwill;” for those interested in examples of how smaller banks are working to build brand loyalty in their community, this is an easy read that might inspire.

Aloha Friday!

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