NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- This week marks the fifth anniversary of when the banking regulators finally realized that the Great Credit Crunch was a real and current danger to the banking system and hence the U.S. economy.Today, the National Association of Home Builders, or NAHB, reports its Housing Market Index for September. The reading for August was a multi-year high of 59, well above the neutral 50 reading. This reading was just 17 and on the way to a record low of 8, in January 2008. Five years ago, the federal funds rate was at 2%, lowered to that level on April 30, 2008. On Oct. 8, the rate was cut to 1.5% then to 1% on Oct. 29, and then to 0% on December 16, where it remains today. In my opinion, this rate should never have been taken below 3%, as savers have been pinched for five years now. In mid-September 2008, initial jobless claims were 488,000 and this statistic did not peak until March 2009, at 651,000. Last week, this reading was below 300,000. The four-week moving average was 321,250, below the recessionary threshold of 350,000. The "too big to fail" money-center banks began to get bigger in January 2008, when Bank of America ( BAC) bought Countrywide Financial. Then in mid-September, it took over Merrill Lynch. Next week, the company gets booted from the Dow Jones Industrial Average, despite being up 56.2% over the last 12 months. JPM) took over Bear Stearns in March 2008, after the Federal Reserve stripped out the toxic assets. Then in late-September, it added Washington Mutual. JPMorgan is the only money center and major regional bank with a buy rating, according to ValuEngine, but it appears to be on the cusp of a downgrade to hold. Today the banking giant faces a fine of up to $800 million in settlement of the legal issues associated with the $6 billion loss from the "London Whale" trade. Citigroup ( C) appeared to have added Wachovia in an FDIC-led merger on Sep. 29, 2008, but was left at the merger altar when Wells Fargo ( WFC) bought Wachovia with a much better bid on Oct. 3, 2008.
Last week, on Sept. 9, I wrote JPMorgan Upgraded as Banking System Heals, where I showed that the "too big to fail" banks continue to get bigger. As a foursome, JPMorgan, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Bank of America control about 44% of the $14.41 trillion total assets in the banking system. Also on Sept. 9, I wrote, Housing Bubble Is Re-inflating and on Wednesday morning, we will get the latest reading on single-family housing starts, which is the key statistic for the homebuilders. Higher home prices, higher mortgage rates and continued tight lending standards for C&D loans for builders and mortgage loans for home buyers could result in a slowdown in the housing market. On Sept. 10, I wrote, Bank Earnings Rise, but Not Real Estate Lending and on the same day we learned that the "too big to fail" banks were experiencing a significant drop-off in mortgage originations, and the foursome announced significant job cuts in this business line. Community Banks With CRE Loan Exposures, where I showed 90 publicly traded banks that were still overexposed to CRE loans. I followed up this story on Sep. 13 in, Umpqua Holdings Buys Sterling Financial; Sterling Financial ( STSA) was on my list of 90 that I profiled in this post. Sterling had a buy rating, according to ValuEngine. Last Friday, the FDIC closed First National Bank, Edinburg, Texas, using their bank failure procedures. This bank was not publicly traded, but it illustrates the problems that remain in the banking system. First National had $3.28 billion in assets at the end of the second quarter, with $341 million in C&D loans on its books. Its C&D to risk-based capital ratio was 314.4%, well above the 100% regulatory guideline. Its CRE to risk-based capital was 1,214.1%, well above the 300% regulatory guideline. The CRE loan commitments were 94.3% funded. This failure cost the FDIC Deposit Insurance Fund $637.5 million.
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