The US Federal Reserve on Friday proposed to tighten the leash on foreign banks to protect taxpayers from having to bail them out, in what banks said could lead to a pullback from US markets.
The rules will likely make it more expensive for foreign banks to operate in the US, and attorneys who work with foreign banks said that they needed to rethink whether they can maintain their current operations.
The plan would force foreign banks to group all their subsidiaries under a holding company, subject to the same capital standards as US holding companies.
The biggest banks will also need to hold liquidity buffers.
“The proposal would not disadvantage foreign banking organizations relative to domestic US banking firms, but rather it seeks to maintain a level playing field,” Fed governor Jeremy Stein said at a board meeting.
Banks with fewer than US$10 billion in US assets would not need to comply with the new rules, the Fed said.
The proposal was previewed in some detail by Fed governor Daniel Tarullo last month, who said regulators remained wary of the risks posed by big banks that do business globally, and are prepared to tighten the rules as a precaution.
The Fed’s Board of Governors voted unanimously to release the proposal for public comment.
The Fed said that while extra capital and liquidity buffers could “incrementally” boost costs, it would also make banks more stable.
However, international banks complained.
“The Fed’s approach is … overly broad and could prompt foreign banks to pull back from the US market, hurting our economy and financial markets,” the Institute of International Bankers said in a statement.
The US has traditionally relied on foreign supervisors to watch overseas banks, allowing them to hold less capital than their domestic counterparts.
The 2010 Dodd-Frank broad overhaul of the US financial landscape put an end to that policy, after the Fed was forced to extend hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency loans to overseas banks in the financial crisis.
Deutsche Bank, Germany’s flagship lender, is among those to be heavily affected after it overhauled its US subsidiary Taunus to avoid having to inject billions of dollars of capital to meet Dodd-Frank financial reforms.
This year, Deutsche gave up bank holding company status for Taunus Corp, which has about US$90 billion of risk-weighted assets, but will now have to put the unit back into a holding company.
It could need to inject about US$15 billion into Taunus as a result, analysts at Espirito Santo said.
The UK’s Barclays has restructured part of its US operations and may have to shift funds around to meet stricter requirements for parts of its business, although it is likely to be less affected than Deutsche.
The Fed must impose tougher capital and other requirements on big banks, including foreign banks with substantial operations in the US, as part of its responsibilities under the Dodd-Frank law.
The Fed’s move is part of a growing trend whereby national regulators apply stricter rules, and which markets fear could lead to a series of tit-for-tat responses.
Britain, for example, has been approving new subsidiaries, but looks unfavorably at applications for new branches over which they have far less influence.
Regulators will begin enforcing the rules — which are for banks with total global assets of US$50 billion or more — in July 2015.