Fed’s Cook says households, banks, firms largely in solid financial shape

By Howard Schneider

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. households, banks and firms are largely in solid financial shape, with the means at hand to cover debt payments and with strong enough buffers to absorb potential shocks, Federal Reserve Governor Lisa Cook said on Wednesday.

Even commercial real estate, which fell in value as workers shifted to home-based offices during the pandemic, poses “sizable but manageable” risks to the group of mostly smaller banks with large concentrations of related loans, Cook said in a review of financial stability prepared for delivery at the Brookings Institution.

The remarks by Cook, who chairs the Fed’s committee on financial stability, follows the release in April of the Fed’s most recent biannual financial stability report.

Cook noted areas of concern she is watching, including to see whether a rise in consumer auto and credit card delinquency rates represents “a normalization from recent lows” or reflects outsized stress among some households.

Fed supervisors, she said, were also “working closely” with banks that either suffered losses in the book value of some assets as the Fed raised interest rates, or who hold large amounts of loans secured by commercial real estate that may have lost value.

While falling CRE valuations have been cited as a potentially critical risk to the U.S. financial system, as companies allowed workers to shift to home-based offices, Cook said that even if the fate of downtown offices requires some lenders to make “appropriate adjustments” as CRE loans come due, other types of office properties have not been subject to the same price declines.

She did not comment in her prepared remarks on the economy or monetary policy.

(Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Andrea Ricci)