Fed to Test Banks Against Interest Rate Rise, Housing Collapse

November 1, 2013

Washington (Nov 1)  The Federal Reserve said it will examine how the biggest banks might react to a jump in long-term interest rates and another housing crash as it released the next round of stress-test scenarios designed to monitor the ability of the U.S. financial system to withstand economic shocks.

The central bank in two adverse scenarios will measure the impact from rising prices in some U.S. property markets and tightening spreads on high-yield, high-risk loans and bonds, according to a release by the Fed today in Washington.

The Fed is using the tests -- based on hypothetical adverse conditions instead of forecasts -- to encourage the 30 biggest banks to build capital cushions against economic turmoil. The Fed said 12 additional banks will be subject to the capital review.

The 18 bank holding companies tested previously have increased their aggregate tier 1 common capital to $836 billion in the second quarter of 2013 from $392 billion in the first quarter of 2009, the Fed said in a press release. Their tier 1 common ratio, which compares capital to risk-weighted assets, has more than doubled to a weighted average of 11.1 percent from 5.3 percent, the Fed said.

The Fed conducted its first stress test in 2009 to promote transparency over bank assets and determine their potential losses in an adverse economy. Confidence in banks was low because portfolios were opaque, capital was scarce and job losses were rising during the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Total Capital

After the test, 10 of the 19 largest banks were required to raise $75 billion in total equity capital.

Since then the tests have evolved into an exercise in forward-looking capital planning. The Fed’s Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review will examine how risk management and governance policies at the largest banks shape dividend and share buyback policies.

The Fed in August released a report that criticized the largest banks for falling short in at least one of five areas deemed critical to risk management and capital planning. These included “generating projections for at least some components of loss, revenue, or expenses using approaches that were not robust, transparent, and/or repeatable.”

The KBW Bank Index, which tracks shares of 24 large U.S. banks, is up more than 25 percent this year compared with a 23 percent gain for the Standard and Poor’s 500 stock index.

Unemployment Peaks

In the “severely adverse” scenario, the unemployment rate peaks at 11.25 percent, stocks fall nearly 50 percent and U.S. housing prices decline 25 percent while the euro area also sinks into recession. Developing economies in Asia also experience a “sharp slowdown,” the Fed said.

In an “adverse” scenario, banks will be tested against global flight from long-term debt that pushes the U.S. economy into a recession, with unemployment rising to 9.25 percent. The yield on the U.S. 10-year Treasury note jumps to 5.75 percent by the end of 2014, and corporate bond and mortgage rates also rise.

The Fed said in an outline of the tests that the larger decline in U.S. house prices in this year’s severely adverse scenario is “particularly relevant for states or metropolitan statistical areas that have experienced brisk gains in house prices over the past year.”

The wider corporate borrowing spreads featured in both tests are “intended to represent a corresponding widening in spreads across all corporate borrowing rating tiers and instruments, particularly those instruments -- such as high-yield corporate bonds and leveraged loans--that are at present experiencing particularly narrow spreads,” the central bank said.

Build Resiliency

The test was designed in part to build resiliency in the financial system against what some would define as emerging bubbles, according to a Fed official who spoke on a conference call with reporters.

Companies will have until the first week of January to submit their capital plans, and the results will be released in March.

This year, the Fed will reveal how banks fare under both scenarios. Previously the central bank did not disclose the results in the scenario that included rising interest rates.

The six banks with large trading operations, Bank of America Corp. (BAC), Citigroup Inc. (C), Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Morgan Stanley (MS) and Wells Fargo & Co. will be required to test how their portfolios would perform against a global shock to financial markets. The Fed will release the details of that scenario “soon” according to the release.

Unexpected Default

Those banks, as well as Bank of New York Mellon Corp. and State Street Corp. will also have to test against a scenario in which one of their counterparties experiences an “instantaneous and unexpected” default. This counter-party test was designed to see if banks could withstand the failure of their largest counterparties, unlike previous tests which focused on incremental defaults as the economy eroded, a Fed official said on the conference call.

The eight banks with more complicated scenarios have been through the Fed’s stress test and capital planning process before, as have Ally Financial Inc., American Express Co., BB&T Corp. (BBT), Capital One Financial Corp., Fifth Third Bancorp (FITB), KeyCorp (KEY), PNC Financial Services Group, Inc., Regions Financial Corp, SunTrust Banks, Inc., and U.S. Bancorp.

Twelve banks will be participating in the process for the first time. Those banks are BMO Financial Corp., BBVA Compass Bancshares, Inc., Comerica Inc., Discover Financial Services, HSBC North America Holdings Inc., Huntington Bancshares Inc., M&T Bank Corp., Northern Trust Corp., RBS Citizens Financial Group, Inc., Santander Holdings USA, Inc., UnionBanCal Corp., and Zions Bancorp.

The Fed’s annual reviews have involved the largest downloads of bank portfolio information in history and now form a central part of the central bank’s oversight.

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