Monday, May 11, 2009

Fed Sees Up to $599 Billion in Bank Losses

The Federal government has reported that they believe that 19 of the largest US banks could suffer major losses over the next year if the economy does get worse. Check out the article below courtesy of the

The federal government projected that 19 of the nation's biggest banks could suffer losses of up to $599 billion through the end of next year if the economy performs worse than expected and ordered 10 of them to raise a combined $74.6 billion in capital to cushion themselves.

The much-anticipated stress-test results unleashed a scramble by the weakest banks to find money and a push by the strongest ones to escape the government shadow of taxpayer-funded rescues.

The Federal Reserve's worst-case estimates of banks' total losses and capital shortfalls were smaller than some had feared. Optimists interpreted the Fed's findings as evidence that the worst is over for the industry. But questions remain about the stress tests' rigor, in part since the Fed scaled back some projected losses in the face of pressure from banks.

The government's tests measured potential losses on mortgages, commercial loans, securities and other assets held by the stress-tested banks, ranging from giants Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc. to regional institutions such as SunTrust Banks Inc. and Fifth Third Bancorp. The government's "more adverse" scenario includes two-year cumulative losses of 9.1% on total loans, worse than the peak losses of the 1930s.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Thursday that he is "reasonably confident" that banks will be able to plug the capital holes through private infusions, alleviating the need for Washington to further enmesh itself in the banking system.

Banks also said they will consider selling businesses or issuing new stock to meet the toughened capital standards.

The information provided by the stress tests will "make it easier for banks to raise new equity from private sources," Mr. Geithner said. Still, he added, "We have a lot of work to repairing the financial system."

Some of the banks told to add capital raced to accomplish that by tapping public markets. On Thursday, Wells Fargo & Co., which the Fed said needed to raise $13.7 billion, laid plans for a $6 billion common-stock offering. Morgan Stanley, facing a $1.8 billion deficit, said it will sell $2 billion of stock and $3 billion of debt that isn't guaranteed by the U.S. government.

If successful, the offerings "should be a meaningful step in restoring a modicum of confidence to the banks," said David A. Havens, a managing director at Hexagon Securities. "It indicates that even the big messy banks are able to attract private capital."

Shares of more than a dozen stress-tested banks rose in after-hours trading as the government's announcement soothed jitters about the industry's immediate capital needs. Bank of America shares climbed 3.6% to $13.99, while Citigroup was up 6.3% to $4.05. Fifth Third jumped 19% to $6.35. SunTrust fell 2.5% to $18.05, and Wells Fargo slipped 0.9% to $24.54.

Nine of the stress-tested banks -- including titans like J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Wall Street's Goldman Sachs Group Inc. as well as several regional institutions -- have adequate capital. That finding essentially represents a seal of approval from the Fed.

The others need to raise anywhere from about $600 million for PNC Financial Services Group Inc. to $33.9 billion for Bank of America. In between are several other regional lenders: Fifth Third, which needs to raise $1.1 billion; KeyCorp, $1.8 billion; Regions Financial Corp., $2.5 billion; and SunTrust, $2.2 billion.

Experts warn that the tests could have a serious unintended consequence: Loans could be harder to come by for consumers and businesses. That's because the government's intense focus on thicker capital cushions might prompt banks to hoard cash and further curtail lending, said Jim Eckenrode, banking research executive at TowerGroup, a financial consulting firm. He said banks will have less room to offer consumers low interest rates, while corporate customers may have a tougher time getting financing for commercial real-estate and property development.

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