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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 29, 2006

Big-company banks put on hold

By Marcy Gordon
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON Bank regulators have halted for six months any new approvals of the sort of industrial banks that Wal-Mart, Home Depot and 12 other companies are seeking to own.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. imposed the moratorium on approving the industrial loan corporations, or ILCs. Nearly 100 members of Congress from both parties recently asked the FDIC to give lawmakers a chance to consider legislation that would block commercial companies from owning the corporations.

The FDIC directors voted informally, without convening a meeting, over the course of this week. It was the first major action taken by the agency under its new chairman, Sheila Bair. The FDIC will not make any final decisions on applications for the banks or for changes in control of existing banks and will not accept new applications for six months, the agency said yesterday in a news release.

"Recently, the growth of the ILC industry, the trend toward commercial company ownership of ILCs and the nature of some ILC business models have raised questions about the risks of ILCs to the deposit insurance fund, and whether their commercial relationships pose any safety and soundness risks," the FDIC said.

The moratorium, which extends until next Jan. 31, will give the regulators time to decide whether changes in law or regulation are needed, the agency said.

The application of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, to establish an ILC based in Utah has spurred opposition from banks, unions, lawmakers, and consumer and community organizations. In April, groups representing those interests argued against granting Wal-Mart's request at two public hearings, the first ever held by the FDIC on such an application.

"We respect the FDIC's decision to consider these matters carefully," company spokeswoman Tara Raddohl said yesterday of the move to impose a moratorium. "The FDIC's action does not change our commitment to move forward with our application. We will continue to work constructively with the FDIC."

Wal-Mart insists it has no plans to compete with community banks and has pledged to the FDIC to stay out of branch banking and consumer lending. Rather, its newly chartered bank would be used to handle the 140 million credit card, debit card and electronic check payments it processes each year, the company says.

There are now 61 ILCs with a total of about $141 billion in assets and $98 billion in deposits.