Its an understatement to say these are difficult times for banks. Between the mortgage collapse, the Treasury recapitalization, and the recession, they are trying to do business — and that that involves some risk. But doing so without losing too much money involves doing less business.
They have become utterly schizophrenic. Whether its the TARP or the credit crisis or deleveraging or something else entirely, I cannot tell you. But damn, these guys have gotten weird.
Back in August, we noted that numerous banks and brokers were sending nastygrams to their HELOC clients telling them "Too Late!" Unused portions of equity lines were being withdrawn.
Our own Citibank HELOC, which was about half unused, was withdrawn 2 months ago. Yesterday, we received a letter offering us a new HELOC from Citi — for the same amount that was withdrawn in August.
Our Visa via JPM/Chase went through the same process. A short while ago, I had a month of extensive business travel expenses. Before we even got the bill (which was paid off in full) came a sort-of-odd, borderline rude letter about our (high) credit use. It was "Thanks for the business, but please use credit responsibly, ya deadbeat."
It was a strange letter. Any review of the charges could see it wasn’t frivolous, but were all business T&E. My solution was to switch to an Amex card, and not use the Visa for business expenses. That was September, and last week, we got a JPM letter — We want your business! We are raising our credit limit on the Visa.
I understand the fear that firms have when they are lending these days. As the NYTimes writes this morning (Consumers Feel the Next Crisis: Credit Cards), another credit crisis is on the horizon. But you guys better get a more coordinated message. You are confusing and self contradictory — and its easy to see how you could alienate some, less understanding clients.
NY Times Ubiq-cerpt:™
"First came the mortgage crisis. Now comes the credit card crisis.
After years of flooding Americans with credit card offers and sky-high credit lines, lenders are sharply curtailing both, just as an eroding economy squeezes consumers.
The pullback is affecting even creditworthy consumers and threatens an already beleaguered banking industry with another wave of heavy losses after an era in which it reaped near record gains from the business of easy credit that it helped create.
Lenders wrote off an estimated $21 billion in bad credit card loans in the first half of 2008 as more borrowers defaulted on their payments. With companies laying off tens of thousands of workers, the industry stands to lose at least another $55 billion over the next year and a half, analysts say. Currently, the total losses amount to 5.5 percent of credit card debt outstanding, and could surpass the 7.9 percent level reached after the technology bubble burst in 2001."
The mortgage collapse has changed my sense of what is a lot of money. $21 billion? That’s chump change…
graphic courtesy of NYT
Morgan Stanley HELOCs: Don’t Delay, Act Now! (August 06, 2008)
Consumers Feel the Next Crisis: Credit Cards
NYT, October 28, 2008