Investigative Reporting Workshop launches BankTracker

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Want to know what kind of financial shape your local bank is in? The answer may well be in BankTracker, a project that has just been launched by The Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University’s School of Communication.

The project analyzes “just how dangerous conditions have become in many banks across the nation,” based on an examination of the financial statements of some 8,000 banks. You can look up your own bank from their exhaustive data base.

Some key findings:

• The amount of nonperforming loans and foreclosed properties on bank books more than doubled last year, from $123 billion at the end of 2007 to more than $261 billion on Dec. 31, 2008.

• Bank profits fell dramatically in 2008. The nation’s banks made nearly $100 billion in 2007. That total declined to $16 billion last year, and the FDIC reported that banks, as a group, lost money in the fourth quarter of 2008, the first time that had happened since 1990.

• As a result, 163 banks had more troubled assets (nonperforming loans and foreclosed property) on their books at the end of 2008 than they had capital and loan loss reserves, meaning that potentially the bank could not cover the losses on loans and other assets it has been absorbing.

Perhaps the coolest part of the project is a comprehensive database of recipients of federal TARP money. Look up your state here.

The Workshop’s executive director, Charles Lewis, founded the Center for Public Integrity in 1989. In partnership with msnbc.com, this is the Workshop’s first major project. PaperTrail welcomes them to the investigative fold and looks forward to more great things from them.