CHICAGO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In the wake of the U.S. housing meltdown of the late 2000s, JPMorgan Chase & Co hunted for new ways to expand its loan business beyond the troubled mortgage sector.
The nation’s largest bank found enticing new opportunities in the rural Midwest – lending to U.S. farmers who had plenty of income and collateral as prices for grain and farmland surged.
JPMorgan grew its farm-loan portfolio by 76 percent, to $1.1 billion, between 2008 and 2015, according to year-end figures, as other Wall Street players piled into the sector. Total U.S. farm debt is on track to rise to $427 billion this year, up from an inflation-adjusted $317 billion a decade earlier and approaching levels seen in the 1980s farm crisis, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But now – after years of falling farm income and an intensifying U.S.-China trade war – JPMorgan and other Wall Street banks are heading for the exits, according to a Reuters analysis of the farm-loan holdings they reported to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).
The agricultural loan portfolios of the nation’s top 30 banks fell by $3.9 billion, to $18.3 billion, between their peak in December 2015 and March 2019, the analysis showed. That’s a 17.5% decline.