On Their Marks, Banks are Set

The countdown to see which banks’ capital-raising efforts qualify them to repay US Treasury Department funds has begun. Nine of the largest US banks will submit capital-raising plans to regulators today under a deadline set forth in the Supervisory Capital Assessment Program (SCAP). The stress tests found these banks needed additional capital to weather severe economic conditions. The banks coped with the news in a strikingly similar way: raise capital, and do it fast. Bank of America (BAC), found to be in need of $33.9bn, last week announced it had already raised $33bn through various capital-enhancement measures and would meet the capital minimum comfortably. On Friday, BofA added four industry veterans to its board of directors and brought on strategists as it reorganized its executive hierarchy as part of a management assessment. BofA isn’t the only bank taking a critical look at its management. Citigroup (C) was also said recently to be in discussions with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to overhaul its executives, despite no official announcements on the issue. Aside from the capital-raising plans and management review required under the SCAP, the driving goal for many banks remains proving their viability outside of government aid in order to receive clearance to repay capital gained through the Troubled Asset Relief Program. (TARP) To qualify for repayment, banks must prove they can issue debt in the absence of government aid as well as raise capital on their own. The latest reports out of the Wall Street Journal name Goldman Sachs Group (GS) and JP Morgan Chase (JPM), among others, as potential candidates for repayment authorization. Both banks were found under the stress tests to be sufficiently capitalized, and announcements of their approval for repayment could come as early as this week. As of the latest TARP transaction report dated Friday, 22 financial institutions had repaid a total $1.87bn. If US banks begin returning capital on a massive scale, the effect on the TARP balance sheet would be dramatic; If Goldman and Chase alone repaid their funds, TARP would see $35bn in bailout capital return. Any influx in TARP repayments should put the Treasury in an unusual position of possessing an excess of bailout funds. Congressional Democrats and Republicans that spoke with the WSJ are split on the issue of returned funds, whether the Treasury should reuse the capital for other investments or return it to help offset the country’s staggering deficit. Write to Diana Golobay. Disclosure: The author held no relevant investment positions when this story was published. Indirect holdings may exist via mutual fund investments.

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