The increase in real estate lending was a major reason for the rapid expansion of New England banks during the 1980s. When nominal real estate prices began to decline in New England, collateral became impaired and many loans stopped performing. The consequent increased provision for expected loan losses (loan loss reserves) caused a rapid deterioration in bank capital throughout the region.
Having just lost a significant proportion of their capital, many banks tried to satisfy their capital/asset ratio requirements by shrinking their institutions. This article discusses why banks facing binding capital constraints will shrink more than unconstrained banks when an adverse capital shock occurs. It shows that New England banks with low capital/asset ratios are in fact shrinking their institutions faster than better capitalized institutions, and that this behavior has been particularly apparent in those liability categories that are marginal sources of funds for most banks.