The FDIC released its latest economic outlook. Included is a look at the risks of deflation.
Clearly, deflation would have significant adverse effects on the banking industry, depending on its severity and duration. Past episodes of asset and goods price deflation often coincided with banking crises, particularly when the banking sector was already in a weakened financial position. Given the current income and balance sheet strength of the U.S. banking industry, short and mild deflation is likely to have a limited adverse impact. However, prolonged deflation would present more serious challenges to the industry by eroding the collateral value of assets and increasing the real debt burden of borrowers. Deflation could also lead to a decline in nominal income for households and businesses, reducing their ability to repay outstanding debts. In combination, these developments likely would lead to significant credit quality deterioration, while an increase in real interest rates would weaken loan demand.
Despite these dangers, there are good reasons to think that serious deflation is unlikely to occur in the United States. One reason is a well-capitalized banking sector with relatively low levels of nonperforming loans. Another is the fact that policymakers appear to be alert to the dangers of deflation and determined to take steps to prevent it from taking hold. Finally, it appears that modern financial instruments and risk management tools contribute to the financial flexibility of households and businesses, reducing the potential for a widespread liquidity crisis. One example is the use of credit derivatives by commercial lenders to off-load credit risk. Another is the benefits of loan prepayment options that allow households and businesses to reduce their interest expenses by refinancing at lower interest rates. Together, these factors limit the possibility of a prolonged deflation that could seriously harm the banking industry.