Posts Tagged ‘Dividends’

Bernanke Talks Tough on Bank Regulation

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

The Federal Reserve is identifying risks in the financial system that could someday erupt into a new financial crisis, but regulators must be careful not to unintentionally hamper lending as they set up new oversight, according to Chairman Ben Bernanke.   “We want the system to be as strong and resilient as possible,” and more intense oversight and changes such as requiring banks to hold more capital will help, said Bernanke at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Bank Structure & Competition conference.  “If we can’t arrest risks, we want to make sure the financial system is defending itself,” he said.  The Dodd Frank Act establishes governmental structures to analyze risk aimed at preventing another financial failure as harsh as the one that almost brought down the world’s economy in the fall of 2008.

Through the Financial Stability Oversight Council and within the Fed, regulators are still analyzing what can cause “systemic risk,” – identified as risk that can cause widespread financial failure, Bernanke said.  Similar actions are underway in other nations; Bernanke said that regulators worldwide are communicating with each other while implementing their own systems.  If the new structures had been in place previously, Bernanke said, the 2008 financial crisis likely would not have happened. The old system of regulation spread authority across too many entities, was poorly coordinated, and problems “fell through the cracks.”  As the Federal Reserve develops a structure for analyzing risk, Bernanke said the focus must go beyond “fighting the last war.”  Future financial threats may differ from those of the past, which is why the banking industry currently is facing new oversight.  When some banks announced plans to pay shareholders dividends, regulators applied “stress tests” to their finances to determine if the institutions would be sound even if the economy weakened.  According to Bernanke, the government’s new stress testing system has provided accurate assessments of bank finances.

Even so, the regulations – the first new ones in 70 years — will be written to encourage bank compliance.  “No one’s interests are served by the imposition of ineffective or burdensome rules that lead to excessive increases in costs or unnecessary restrictions in the supply of credit,” Bernanke said.  “Regulators must aim to avoid stifling reasonable risk-taking and innovation in financial markets, as these factors play an important role in fostering broader productivity gains, economic growth, and job creation.”

Bernanke and Fed officials are trying to balance the need to diminish the risk of another financial crisis with the aim of stimulating the economy after the worst recession since the Great Depression. The Dodd-Frank Act gives the Fed the job of overseeing the biggest financial companies.  “While a great deal has been accomplished since the act was passed less than a year ago, much work remains to better understand sources of systemic risk, to develop improved monitoring tools, and to evaluate and implement policy instruments to reduce macro-prudential risks,” Bernanke said.

Lawmakers who solidly opposed the financial overhaul legislation, say Dodd-Frank goes too far and might make it more difficult for American banks to compete globally.  Some are working to cut funding for agencies established by the law and limit the scope of new rules.  According to the General Accounting Office, the law will cost nearly $1 billion to implement in 2011.

Additionally, Bernanke cited the sovereign-debt concerns in Europe as an example where the analysis led to the May 2010 decision by the Federal Open Market Committee to authorize “dollar liquidity swap lines with other central banks in a pre-emptive move to avert a further deterioration in liquidity conditions.”

To listen to our podcast on financial reform with Anthony Downs of The Brookings Institution, click here.

The Fed Sends 19 Biggest Banks Back to the Treadmill

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

The Federal Reserve‘s second round of stress tests requires the 19 largest U.S. banks to examine their capital levels against a worst-possible-case scenario of another recession with the unemployment rate hovering above 8.9 percent. The banks were instructed to test how their loans, securities, earnings, and capital performed when compared with at least three possible economic outcomes as part of a broad capital-planning exercise.  The banks, including some seeking to increase dividends cut during the financial crisis, submitted their plans in January.  The Fed will complete its review in March.

“They’re essentially saying, ‘Before you start returning capital to shareholders, let’s make sure banks’ capital bases are strong enough to withstand a double-dip scenario,'” said Jonathan Hatcher, a credit strategist at New York-based Jefferies Group Inc.  Regulators don’t want to see banks “come crawling back for help later,” he said.

The review “allows our supervisors to compare the progress made by each firm in developing a rigorous internal analysis of its capital needs, with its own idiosyncratic characteristics and risks, as well as to see how the firms would fare under a standardized adverse scenario developed by our economists,” Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo said. Although Fed policymakers aren’t predicting another slump any time soon, they want banks to be prepared for one.  In January, the Federal Open Market Committee forecast a growth rate of 3.4 percent or more annually over the next three years, with the jobless rate falling to between 6.8 percent and 7.2 percent by the 4th quarter of 2013.  Unemployment averaged 9.6 percent in the 4th quarter of 2010.

The new round of stress tests are being overseen by a financial-risk unit known as the Large Institution Supervision Coordinating Committee (LISCC).  The unit relies on the Fed’s economists, quantitative researchers, regulatory experts and forecasters and examines risks across the financial system.  Last year, the LISCC helped Ben Bernanke respond to an emerging liquidity crisis faced by European banks.  “The current review of firms’ capital plans is another step forward in our approach to supervision of the largest banking organizations,” Tarullo said. “It has also served as an occasion for discussion in the LISCC of the overall state of the industry and key issues faced by banking organizations.”

At the same time, Bernanke expressed his support for the Dodd-Frank Act, which will add new layers of regulation to the financial services industry, as well as the Consumer Protection Act. “Dodd-Frank is a major step forward for financial regulation in the United States,” Bernanke said, noting that the Fed is moving swiftly to implement its provisions.  Additionally, the Fed wants banks to think about how the Dodd-Frank Act might affect earnings, and how they will meet stricter international capital guidelines.  Banks will have to determine how many faulty mortgages investors may ask them to take back into their portfolios.  Standard & Poor’s estimates that mortgage buybacks could carry a $60 billion bill to be paid by the banking industry.

In the meantime, the big banks are feeling adequately cash rich to pay dividends to their stockholders.  Bank of America’s CEO Brian T. Moynihan said that he expects to “modestly increase” dividends in the 2nd half of 2011.  “We’d love to raise the dividend,” James Rohr, CEO of PNC, said.  “We’re hopeful of hearing back in March from the regulators.”  JPMorgan CFO Douglas Braunstein told investors that the bank asked regulators for permission to increase the dividend to 30 percent of normalized earnings over time.  Braunstein said that JPMorgan’s own stress scenario was more severe than the Fed’s, and assumed that the GDP fell more than four percent through the 3rd quarter of this year with unemployment peaking at 11.7 percent.

Clive Crook, a senior editor of The Atlantic, a columnist for National Journal, and a commentator for the Financial Times, believes that United States fiscal policy itself merits examination.  Writing in The Atlantic, Crook says that “Fiscal policy needs a hypothetical stress test, just like bank capital.  Let’s be optimistic and suppose that the deficit projections do hold, and that a debt ratio of 80 percent can be comfortably supported at full employment.  What happens when we enter the next recession with debt at that level?  Assume another really serious downturn, and another 30-odd percentage points of debt.  Worried yet?  That’s why the problem won’t wait another ten years, and why sort-of-stabilizing at 80 percent won’t do.”

The Fed Is Sending Big Banks Back to the Virtual Treadmill

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

The Fed Is Sending Big Banks Back to the Virtual Treadmill

The Federal Reserve is going to subject the nation’s 19 largest banks to a new round of stress tests to determine if they are healthy enough to pay dividends to their shareholders again.   The Fed plans to use a conservative approach, applied with an even hand, on the nation’s largest and most complex banks.  The tests also will determine if the Fed needs to repurchase shares or take other actions to protect the banks’ cushions against possible future losses.

The planned tests are a lower profile version of the 2009 round, when regulators determined exactly how much capital big banks needed to survive worst-case economic conditions.  According to Fed officials, those stress tests were an excellent lesson about how to regulate banks in a way the mirrors events taking place in the broader economy.  The Fed plans to apply those lessons to the new stress tests.

“We anticipate that some firms with high capital levels that have been retaining solid earnings for several quarters will be interested in increasing or resuming dividends,” said Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo.  “We will expect firms to submit convincing capital plans that demonstrate their ability to absorb losses over the next two years under an adverse economic scenario that we will specify, and still remain amply capitalized.”

Although the big banks appear to be significantly healthier than they were two years ago, several risks remain.  Other than the possibility of another economic downturn, banks face potential court challenges from investors who own mortgage-backed securities.  Some believe the banks should bear responsibility for loans that went south because they used improper procedures on these “put backs”.