Financial regulators told banks Thursday to have procedures in place to minimize their risks from loans when rock-bottom interest rates start to rise.
The advisory came from the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, which includes the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision.
The advisory wasn't meant to signal any upcoming change in interest-rate policy by the Fed.
To nurture the budding recovery, the Fed has slashed a key bank lending rate to a record low near zero, where it has been for a year. When the economy is on firm ground, the Fed at some point will start boosting rates. Some economists think the Fed might begin to raise rates later this year to safeguard against any inflation problems.
It's unusual for the council to issue such an advisory. The last time it did so was in 1996, a Fed spokeswoman said.
"In the current environment of historically low short-term interest rates, it is important for institutions to have robust processes for measuring and, where necessary, mitigating their exposure to potential increases in interest rates," the council said in the advisory issued Thursday.
Higher interest rates make it more expensive for banks to borrow and increase their costs of doing business. The council suggested that banks make sure they have sufficient capital cushions to protect against any possible losses.
"In this challenging environment, funding longer-term assets with shorter-term liabilities can generate earnings, but also poses risks to an institution's capital and earnings," the council said.
The council said banks should be testing their risk-management systems for scenarios including instantaneous and significant changes in interest rates.
Deficiencies in banks' risk-management systems — along with lax regulation — have been blamed for contributing to the financial meltdown. The crisis, the worst since the 1930s, was triggered in 2007 when home mortgages soured as the housing market collapsed.
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