A Case of Bottom-Line Blues

Banks boost the prime and take a hit from Brazilian loans

A cautious and circumspect breed, bankers are rarely surprising. Last week, though, U.S. lenders managed to startle some of the most seasoned financial experts. The first jolt came when Citibank and Chase Manhattan hiked their benchmark prime rate on loans to commercial customers from 7.5% to 7.75%, its first rise in nearly three years. Several major banks soon followed suit. Two days later, seven leading banks had announced that they would take the serious step of reclassifying their loans to Brazil to a "nonperforming" status. That means that the banks' books will no longer maintain the fiction that Brazil is still...

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