Fed report shows US loan officers see tighter credit, weaker demand

By Howard SchneiderWASHINGTON (Reuters) - Banks tightened lending standards for U.S. businesses and households in the third quarter, but the pace of change appeared to ease, and demand for loans fell broadly in a sign of the impact higher interest rates are having on the economy, the Federal Reserve reported on Monday.The tightening of standards for business loans applied to firms of all sizes, the U.S. central bank said in its latest survey of senior bank lending officers, while consumers faced tighter credit for home and home equity loans, credit cards, and tougher terms on auto loans.Demand for loans fell broadly, with 60% of banks citing moderately or substantially weaker demand for home mortgages in the third quarter, up significantly from 43% in the second quarter, as the Fed's aggressive rate increases since March of 2022 continued to bite on the residential housing industry.The average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate home mortgage rose sharply through the summer and fall, and at more than 7.7% has hit levels not seen in nearly a quarter of a century.The detailed responses of the survey, fielded quarterly by the Fed and part of the data presented by staff to policymakers, did suggest, however, that the pace of credit tightening may be easing as the central bank's rate increases reach a likely plateau in the nearly 20-month-old tightening cycle.The Fed has kept its policy rate steady in the 5.25%-5.50% range since July, and many analysts feel it is unlikely to go higher.While more than half of banks reported tightening business lending standards in the second quarter, just 35% said they cranked down further in the third quarter, with about 62% keeping standards the same. One bank reported easing standards slightly.Asked about the reasons for why standards may have shifted, bankers were also less likely in the third quarter to cite concerns about the overall economy or their own banks' financial position, and more likely to point to lower risk tolerance and the ability to resell loans in the secondary market.Story continuesDemand for commercial and industrial loans weakened most among small firms, with more than half of banks saying credit demand had fallen among firms with annual sales of less than $50 million. About 39% of bank loan officers said loan demand had fallen among larger firms in the third quarter, compared to nearly 60% in the second quarter.For households, 86% of loan officers said they had kept standards for home mortgages about the same in the third quarter, though 12% said standards had gotten tighter. Just over 5% of banks said they had tightened standards in the second quarter.Analysts said the survey results were consistent with an expected economic slowdown in the final months of the year."The survey continued to show tightening lending standards and decreases in demand across the major reported loan types that look broadly consistent with an economy that should be slowing," said Daniel Silver, an economist at J.P. Morgan.(Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Paul Simao)