Fed finds faults in capital plans of major US banks


Sat, Mar 16, 2013 - Page 15

The US Federal Reserve on Thursday cited weaknesses in the capital programs of top banks Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, raising questions about their plans for dividends and share buybacks to reward investors.

The Fed gave full okays for the dividend payouts and share buyback programs of 14 of 18 major US banks following the completion of a fresh round of stress tests and other assessments of soundness.

Goldman and JPMorgan received only conditional approvals, while the Fed rejected the plans of two banks, BB&T and government-controlled Ally Financial, signaling that both need to strengthen their capital footing before ramping up dividends.

With Goldman and JPMorgan, the Fed said it did not object to their capital programs, “but required the two institutions to submit new capital plans by the end of the third quarter to address weaknesses in their capital planning processes.”

Those weaknesses “were significant enough to require immediate attention” and if not addressed adequately by the third quarter, “would be grounds for objecting to the capital plans and planned capital distributions,” the Fed said.

Ally Financial and BB&T though will have to obtain prior written approval from the Fed to make any capital distributions.

The capital plan assessments came at the end of a review of the health of the 18 largest US banks which control more than 70 percent of the assets of domestic US banks.

In the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis which forced the government to rescue and prop up many of the country’s largest financial institutions, the Fed has required banks to prove they are clearly well-insulated from any new deep shock before they transfer capital to shareholders.

Last week the Fed announced that 17 of 18 banks had passed a stress test, proving their ability to weather a fresh crisis involving a 50 percent plunge in equity prices, a fall of housing prices by 20 percent, and unemployment shooting to 12.1 percent.

Only one, Ally, was not able to maintain a 5 percent level of core capital after being battered by such a crisis.

After the Fed’s report, JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon said the bank “is fully committed to meeting all of the Fed’s requirements.”

The bank said it had the green light to go ahead with up to US$6 billion in share repurchases over the next year, and that it would pay a US$0.30 per share dividend in the first quarter this year and US$0.38 in the second quarter.

Citigroup — whose capital plan was rejected a year ago — said it would launch a US$1.2 billion share buyback while maintaining its per-share dividend of US$0.01 a quarter.

Morgan Stanley said it would increase its quarterly dividend to US$0.23 and repurchase up to US$4.2 billion in shares over the next year.

However, Ally, the former financial arm of General Motors that was taken over by the government during the crisis, criticized the Fed’s assumptions and results of the stress tests.

“Ally continues to have strong capital levels and ample liquidity to support its automotive finance operations. In addition, Ally Bank continues to be a well-capitalized bank with a leading position in the market,” it said in a statement.