- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. may take the unprecedented step of ordering banks to prepay about $36 billion in premiums to shore up the shrinking deposit insurance fund.

The FDIC board likely will call for “prepaid” bank insurance premiums at its meeting Tuesday, three industry executives and a government official said. The banking industry prefers that option over a special emergency fee, which would be the second this year. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision has yet to be made public.

It would be the first time the FDIC has required prepaid insurance fees. Under the plan, banks would have to pay in advance their insurance premiums for 2010 through 2012, bringing in about $12 billion for each of the three years, two of the officials said. That is the normal amount of insurance fees, though it could vary somewhat according to growth in total insured deposits - the basis for determining the fees.

Off the table, at least for now, are the options of tapping the agency’s $500 billion credit line with the Treasury Department and borrowing billions of dollars from healthy banks by issuing its own debt, the officials said.


A spokesman for the FDIC declined to comment Monday.

Losses on commercial real estate and other soured loans have caused 95 bank failures thus far this year amid the most severe financial climate in decades. The insurance fund fell 20 percent to $10.4 billion at the end of June, its lowest point since 1992, at the height of the savings-and-loan crisis. The fund has now slipped to 0.22 percent of insured deposits, below a congressionally mandated minimum of 1.15 percent.

Some analysts expect hundreds more banks to fail in the coming years, and the FDIC forecasts the fund will need $70 billion through 2013 to deal with those losses. But the FDIC is fully backed by the government, which means depositors’ money is guaranteed up to $250,000 per account.

Besides the prepayment plan, the agency could still propose an emergency assessment later, or a transfer of cash collected in fees from the FDIC’s temporary rescue program that guarantees hundreds of billions of dollars of debt that banks issue to each other. The agency has collected about $9 billion in fees from banks issuing debt under the program, and $596.7 million of it already has gone into the deposit insurance fund.

The first emergency fee, which took effect June 30, brought in an estimated $5.6 billion. Another one would allow the healthiest banks to keep more capital for investment, but could drive weaker banks toward failure, further depleting the insurance fund.

“I think they will continue to levy [emergency] assessments on an ad hoc basis,” said Bert Ely, a banking industry consultant in Alexandria.