Never before have America’s banks been so wary of risking their cash deposits on U.S. government debt.
After holdings of U.S. debt surged to a record $1.89 trillion in 2012, lenders from Citigroup Inc. to Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. are culling for the first time in six years and amassing dollars. Banks’ $1.8 trillion of the bonds now equal less than 70 percent of their cash, the least since the Federal Reserve began compiling the data in 1973.
With net interest margins falling to the lowest since 2006, banks are spurning Treasuries and hoarding unprecedented amounts of cash on prospects that loan demand will revive as a strengthening economy leads the Fed to reduce its own debt purchases. Five years of cheap-money policies also have depressed yields and made it less attractive for banks to buy Treasuries as a way to bolster income.