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And now the banks: Japanese make US inroads

By Ron SchererBusiness and financial correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / April 8, 1981



New York

Citicorp applied for another branch in Tokyo way back in 1953. The huge New York bank has yet to receive a response from the Japanese government. At the same time, in this country, Japanese banks are expanding faster than their US counterparts.

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This story is familiar. In both electronics and autos, the Japanese have maintained steady growth in this country while protecting their own markets at home. This time, however, they are striking at the heart of the US financial system: the banking world.

The Japanese, led by such banks as Bank of Tokyo, Dai Ichi Kangyo Bank Lt., Mitsui Bank Ltd., and Sumitomo Bank Ltd., are beating banks such as Citibank, Chase Manhattan, and Bank of America to the punch in making loans to US corporations. Foreign banks as a whole now have booked over 12 percent of the commercial and industrial loans made to corporations in the United States. And a large portion --about 38 percent -- have been booked by the branches or agencies of Japanese banks.

According to a recent study made by the American Banker, a banking newspaper, four out of five of the largest foreign bank lenders in the US are Japanese. The largest, the Bank of Tokyo Ltd., had almost $2 billion in loans outstanding at its six branches and agencies, and, with its $9 billion in assets, would be as large as the nation's 22nd-largest bank.

At the same time, according to David Rockefeller, the chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, the business of US banks in Japan is relatively stagnant. Mr. Rockefeller, at a recent dinner, told a table full of reporters, "We don't want restrictions on the Japanese, but we want the Japanese to treat US banks more generously." He complained that the Japanese have limited the availability of yen in Japan for US corporations to make loans in Japan. And when he has traveled to Japan, Mr. Rockefeller says, "I've been politely received by bank officials who say, 'We understand your problem,' but nothing gets done about it."

Leland S. Prussia, vice-chairman and head of the world banking division of the Bank of America, says he too has made frequent visits to Japan and "received a sympathetic hearing." Like Mr. Rockefeller, Mr. Prussia wants to see the Japanese restrictions eased. "We'd like to expand in Japan," he says.

So would a lot of other US bankers. Take Citicorp, for example. Edward L. Palmer, chairman of the executive committee, says that when the bank has mentioned to the government its application for another Tokyo branch, it only gets "a big smile and a laugh."

STill, he notes, Citicorp has been more successful than most banks at developing business in Japan and probably has one of the largest shares of the market there. The key, he claims, was convincing Japanese businessmen that they could borrow money based on their cash flow. Traditional Japanese business has relied on "guarantees" from Japanese banks when borrowing money from foreign lenders. "There was a cultural problem, but we have solved that one," Mr. Palmer says.