Net interest margins are clearly under pressure at community banks, but this trend is not new. It is a product of a highly competitive banking industry and a direct result of today’s lower lending levels and abundant balance sheet liquidity. The net interest margin is the difference between interest income and interest expense. Interest income and interest expense fluctuated considerably through the business cycle, but the long-term trend indicates that asset yields are falling faster than deposit and other funding costs.
It is common knowledge that the banking industry has become increasingly consolidated over the past 25 years. In 1990, prior to a number of banking law changes, the nation housed around 12,500 charters. Today, there are roughly 6,000 charters, with consolidated assets of the top 10 U.S. banking firms representing approximately 64 percent of U.S. banking assets. Without question, operations of these large firms magnified the financial crisis, emphasizing their systemic importance. The resulting landmark legislation—the Dodd-Frank Act—is intended to reduce systemic risk and, ultimately, end “too big to fail.”