IMF Says U.S. Financial System May Need $76 Billion in Capital

Bloomberg (Link) - Sandrine Rastello & Rebecca Christie (July 30, 2010)

The U.S. financial system remains fragile and banks subjected to additional economic stress might need as much as $76 billion in capital, according to the results of International Monetary Fund stress tests.

The findings, released today as part of a broader IMF report on the U.S. financial system, suggested that while the nation�s banking system is stable, it remains vulnerable. Home prices, commercial real estate loans and economic growth have the potential to cause shocks that could expose banks to more losses.

Under one scenario, small and regional banks as well as subsidiaries of foreign banks would need $40.5 billion in additional capital to meet a benchmark capital ratio of 6 percent Tier 1 common equity from 2010 to 2014. Under the adverse scenario, those needs rise to $76.3 billion, according to the report.

�Pockets of vulnerabilities linger,� the fund said in the report. The U.S. is recovering from what the IMF called �one of the most devastating financial crises in a century.�

Because the economic recovery is proceeding slowly, regulators must be especially vigilant in guarding against risks and weak spots, the report said.

The IMF also renewed its call for the Obama administration to push ahead with changes to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored enterprise housing companies. The report suggested a partial privatization strategy, in which the government would take over the GSEs� public housing mission while privatizing investment operations.

Regulators� Role

The IMF stopped short of recommending recapitalizing the banks it studied in the report. Instead, it urged regulators to monitor conditions, especially for smaller institutions with less market access.

The numbers �are not frightening,� said Christopher Towe, the IMF�s deputy director of monetary and capital markets who directed the assessment. The review process was created in the wake of the Asian crisis, and the U.S. is the first major economy to undergo it since the global financial turmoil.

�We are particularly concerned about the situation among the small and medium-sized banks, which are most heavily exposed to the commercial real estate sector,� he told reporters in a press briefing yesterday.

The IMF said second-quarter results underscore the balance- sheet risks identified by the stress tests. �Initial releases of second-quarter earnings results have been disappointing,� the IMF report said.

Real Estate

The IMF said about $1.4 trillion of commercial real estate loans will mature from 2010 to 2014, almost half of which are already �seriously delinquent,� with payments 90 days or more past due, or �underwater,� with loan values exceeding property values. Home prices are another concern, as are the spillover effects if problems intensify as they spread among institutions.

U.S. regulators will need to step up their efforts to coordinate oversight after the Dodd-Frank legislation that President Barack Obama signed this month, the IMF said. The report generally praised the new law, while also flagging ongoing concerns.

�In some areas we were a little bit disappointed,� Towe said. �We see the system of regulatory agencies as still remaining exceptionally complex with a very large number of agencies involved and we would have preferred to have seen a much more bold streamlining.�