Banks Lobbying, Capitalizing Like It's 2007

They may still be too big and fragile, but banks are throwing their considerable weight around and getting their way.
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They may still be too big and fragile, but banks are throwing their considerable weight around and getting their way.

Citigroup Inc. will seek permission for its first share buyback since 2007 as part of the latest Federal Reserve "stress tests," according to people familiar with the company's plans….

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., the largest U.S. bank by assets, is expected to submit a plan that calls for both a dividend rise and a share repurchase despite more than $6 billion in trading losses during 2012, said a person familiar with the company's plans.

Citigroup and Ohio's Fifth Third Bancorp, both of which had capital requests rejected by the Fed last year, are among the institutions that intend to ask for dividend increases or buybacks. Morgan Stanley isn't expected to ask for a dividend or buyback, focusing instead on winning Fed approval to complete this year a plan to take full ownership of a wealth-management unit.

The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, a group of the world's top regulators and central bankers, said Sunday that it agreed to relax a rule designed to ensure that big banks are able to weather financial crises without running short of cash. Bowing to two years of intense pressure from the banking industry, the regulators made it easier for banks to meet the rule, known as the "liquidity coverage ratio," and delayed its full implementation until 2019.

Banks Are Still Too Big and Fragile, Economist Says [WSJ Real Time Economics blog]
Big Banks Readying Payout Plans [WSJ]
Rules for Lenders Relaxed [WSJ]

Related

Vikram Pandit Not Feeling Sandy Weill's Break-Up The Banks Call

About a month ago, retired Citi CEO Sandy Weill set his alarm an hour early, got out of bed when it was still dark, ate a piece of rye toast, told Joan he'd see her when he'd see her, took the elevator downstairs to wait for the car that drove him out to Englewood Cliffs, and went on CNBC to proffer a small suggestion to Wall Street: break up the big banks. Perhaps you heard about it? Not many people were receptive to the notion of Weill giving them advice on the matter, which may or may not have had something to do with the fact that in his day, Weill couldn't get enough of big banks and was the man responsible for cobbling together the behemoth known as Citigroup, an institution so huge it can barely support its own weight. The response by most, in fact, was "Shut it, you old bag." But what about Vikram Pandit, the lucky guy who inherited the place? What did he think of Weill's tip? After giving it some good thought-- really and truly considering it-- for a few weeks, he's decided to take a pass: Citigroup’s chief executive has knocked back the idea of big banks being split up after calls from people such as his predecessor Sandy Weill. But not for the reasons you might think! Pandit actually agrees with Sando because if you think about it, Citi's already been broken up and is basically the bank it was before the merger that resulted in it needing firefighters to use a giant pulley system to lift it out of bed and get around every day. Pandit said Citi, formed in Mr Weill’s time with mergers such as the acquisition of Travelers in 1998, had already gone back to the basics of banking, and aside from some global markets businesses had sold most of the units from that deal. “What’s left here is essentially the old Citicorp,” he told the Financial Times. “That’s a tried and proven strategy. Why did it work? Because it was a strategy based upon operating the business and serving clients and not a strategy based on dealmaking. That’s the fundamental difference.” So we're all on the same page here. Citi Chief Rejects Calls For Bank Splits [FT]

Banks Prove That They Are Not Too Big To Fail By Saying "We Can Fail" On A Piece Of Paper, Moving On

One way you could spend this slow week is reading the "living wills" submitted by a bunch of banks telling regulators how to wind them up if they go under. Don't, though: they're about the most boring and least informative things imaginable and I am angry that I read them.* Here for instance is how JPMorgan would wind itself up if left to its own devices**: (1) It would just file for bankruptcy and stiff its non-deposit creditors (at the holding company and then, if necessary, at the bank). (2) If after stiffing its non-deposit creditors it didn't have enough money to pay its depositors it would sell its highly attractive businesses in a competitive sale to willing buyers who would pay top dollar. This seems wrong, no? And not just in the sense of "in my opinion that would be sort of difficult, what with people freaking out about JPMorgan going bankrupt and its highly attractive businesses having landing it in, um, bankruptcy." It's wrong in the sense that it's the opposite of having a plan for dealing with banks being "too big to fail": it's premised on an assumption that the bank is not too big to fail. If JPMorgan runs into trouble that it can't get out of without taxpayer support, it'll just file for bankruptcy like anybody else. Depositors will be repaid (if they're under FDIC limits); non-depositor creditors will be screwed just like they would be on a failure of Second Community Bank of Kenosha.

It's Good To Be Too Big To Fail

So, HSBC is going to have to cough up almost $2 billion for, in effect, running a massive money-laundering operation that helped fund such luminary do-gooders as the Iranian government and Mexican drug gangs. But the U.S. has decided not to throw the cuffs on the British bank because, well, that would be pretty hard. And could create an awful lot of collateral damage that no one needs as the country careens off the fiscal cliff.

Germany Looks At Its Banks

For all their saber-rattling and bold talk about a final solution to the problem of global financial risk, the Germans haven't done a hell of lot to rein in their banks. There is, for instance, no Großdeutschesvolckerregierung. At least, not yet.