Going the Extra Mile: Distant Lending and Credit Cycles
A simple proxy for a bank’s credit risk – the average physical distance of small corporate borrowers from their bank’s branches – suggests risky lending before the global financial crisis was pro-cyclical and especially so in banks operating in counties where banking was competitive. Surprisingly, such lending took off as the Fed raised interest rates between 2004 and 2007. We argue that bank responses to the rate hikes led to a shift of bank deposits into counties where banking was competitive. Short-horizon bank management recycled these new deposits into loans to more distant counties where banking was not competitive. Unfortunately, given the difficulty of making distant small business loans, loan quality deteriorated. We discuss the conditions under which a normalization of interest rates can lead to a deterioration in loan quality.