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Fed to review banks’ health anew

Nineteen will undergo additional stress tests

WASHINGTON – The Federal Reserve on Wednesday announced it will require all 19 banks that went through stress tests in 2009 to undergo another review before they are permitted to increase dividend payments or repurchase stock.

The central bank issued guidelines looking at a number of criteria, including whether the firm could absorb losses in an adverse economic scenario envisioned by the Fed.

During the financial crisis that shook the economy in September 2008, dividends were suspended or reduced to minimal levels by all 19 banking groups. Institutions that pass the new tests can raise their dividends.

According to a news release, the Fed will respond to capital distribution requests in the first quarter of 2011.

Regulators will evaluate each institution based on how it plans to meet Basel III international regulations, which require banks to hold top-quality capital totaling 7 percent of their risk-bearing assets. Lenders have about eight years to comply with the Basel rules.

The Fed also said that banks seeking to raise their dividends must take into account risks on the horizon, such as their ability to absorb losses on litigation. Some investors are seeking to force banks to repurchase or “put back” bad mortgages. Bank of America, for example, is being sued by investors, including the New York Fed, that demand the lender purchase $47 billion worth of mortgages.

Analysts are predicting dividend increases at several lenders. For example, Wells Fargo & Co. is predicted to raise 2011 payouts to 39 cents a share from this year’s 20 cents, according to a Thomson Reuters compilation of estimates. Financial institutions that underwent federal stress tests in 2009 included JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs Group, GMAC LLC, SunTrust Banks Inc., Fifth Third Bancorp, Bank of America Corp., Morgan Stanley, PNC, US Bancorp and BB&T.


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