Wednesday, February 24, 2010

“We've made enormous advances in what they're called” -- more on corporate data cooking

Yesterday, I mentioned how bundled offers and the ability to pick the most advantageous data could allow a company to produce any number of grossly dishonest statistics. Today over at Baseline Scenario, James Kwak explains how J.P. Morgan can use acquisitions and flexible definitions to perform similar magic with its promise to loan $10 billion to small businesses:
Still, $10 billion is still an increase over the previous high of $6.9 billion in 2007, right? Well, not quite. Because in the meantime, JPMorgan Chase went and bought Washington Mutual. At the end of 2007, Washington Mutual held over $47 billion in commercial loans of one sort or another (from a custom FDIC SDI report that you can build here). Most of those are not small business by JPMorgan’s definition, since commercial real estate and multifamily real estate got put into the Commercial Banking business after the acquisition. But that still leaves $7.5 billion in potential small business loans, up from $5.1 billion at the end of 2006, which means WaMu did at least $2.4 billion of new lending in 2007.

I don’t know how much of this is small business lending, but this is part of the problem — banks can choose what they call small business lending, and they can choose to change the definitions from quarter to quarter. It’s not also clear (from the outside, at least) what counts as an origination. If I have a line of credit that expires and I want to roll it over, does that count as an origination? My guess is yes. Should it count as helping small businesses and the economy grow? No.

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