WSJ: Regulators urge BofA, Citi to boost capital

April 28, 2009 7:52:41 AM PDT
Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc., which have each received $45 billion in government bailout funds, have been told by regulators that "stress test" results show they may need to raise additional capital, The Wall Street Journal said Tuesday. Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America is looking at a shortfall in the billions of dollars, the paper said, citing people familiar with the situation. Both banks plan to rebut the preliminary findings, according to the paper, with Bank of America expected to respond Tuesday ahead of its shareholder meeting Wednesday.

Bank of America declined to comment.

Citigroup said in a statement, "Until the results of the stress tests are announced, our regulators have prohibited all financial institutions, including Citi, from making any comments related to the stress tests."

A Citi spokesman added that the bank is continuing with its plan to exchange debt for equity and shed assets as part of a program to further bolster its capital position.

Citi has reached a basic agreement to sell its Japanese brokerage unit, Nikko Cordial, to Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. for 500 billion yen ($5.2 billion), according to The Nikkei business newspaper. Citi declined to comment on the potential sale of the unit.

Shares of Citigroup fell 18 cents, or 5.9 percent, to $2.89 in morning trading. Bank of America shares declined 59 cents, or 6.6 percent, to $8.33.

Treasury Department spokesman Andrew Williams said Treasury officials would not comment on whether regulators told Bank of America and Citigroup they may need to raise more capital.

As executives of the nation's largest banks review their stress-test results, even the top performers are lobbying regulators to raise their scores before the numbers are finalized Friday.

Fed officials told reporters Friday that all 19 banks that took its "stress tests" will be required to keep an extra buffer of capital reserves beyond what is required now in case losses continue to mount. That would mean some banks will likely have to raise additional cash. But the Fed stressed in a statement that a bank's need for more capital reserves to meet the requirements should not be considered a measure of the "current solvency or viability of the firm."

Federal Reserve officials held top-secret meetings with bank executives last week to give them preliminary findings of how each bank would fare if the recession got much worse. The government plans to announce the results of the tests May 4, and banks will have the opportunity to appeal the findings.

By law, the banks cannot publicize the results without the government's permission.

Executives sifted through the test results over the weekend, devising arguments they hope will persuade regulators to boost their scores, according to two industry officials who requested anonymity because regulators have barred them from discussing the process.

Banks have until Tuesday to make their cases. They will receive the final test results Friday, and the information will be released next week.

The results will determine the fates of the companies, which together hold one-half of the U.S. banking system's loans. Banks found to need more capital face several possibilities: The government could convert its stake in them to common shares, force them to raise money from investors or eventually release more funds from the Treasury Department's $700 billion financial bailout.

For Treasury, the easiest way to bolster bank balance sheets is to convert the government's existing stake from preferred shares - a form of debt - into common shares that carry voting rights. This would help Treasury avoid returning to Congress for more bailout money - a request lawmakers are likely to rebuff.

The banks' options are designed to ensure banks have enough cash to withstand the mounting loan losses they would absorb in a bleaker economy.

If the test showed a bank would need more money to endure a much worse recession, regulators will force it to meet higher standards for capital reserves, to offset possible future losses.

Banks deemed to have enough capital may learn whether they'll be permitted to repay billions of dollars the government injected into them last fall, analysts and officials said. Most large banks have said they want to repay the money to escape executive compensation limits and other obligations.

Investors have grown more concerned about regional banks with many risky loans on their books. Defaults on those loans could skyrocket in a worsening economy. Banks that carry such loans are likely to be asked to improve their capital reserves.

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AP Business Writer Stephen Bernard reported from New York.

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