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Monday, May 4, 2009

Market Moves Will Remain on Hold Until Bank Stress Test Results Are Released Thursday

By William Patalon III


Barring some dramatic – and unforeseen – news this week, expect investors to tread water until Thursday, when the government is expected to release the results of the bank stress tests it conducted on the 19 largest U.S. banks.

The stress-test results are expected to show that the 19 banks may have to raise between $100 billion to $150 billion – or even more – in new capital. Investors will cause the shares of the strong players to zoom northward, and will likely savage the shares of the weakest players.

"I can’t think of a time since I’ve been watching banks when there’s been so much uncertainty about the true value of a key set of assets," Douglas Elliott, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, told Reuters.

The U.S. bank stress tests have transfixed the world financial markets for weeks, exacerbating the ongoing financial crisis – worsening the U.S. recession and shaking economies around the world. That’s escalated the burden on the still-new Barack Obama administration and on the U.S. Congress.

The banks being tested include Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C), Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC), JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM), Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC), and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS). All told, the 19 banks hold two-thirds of total U.S. bank assets.

"Most banks will have to raise capital in some form," Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group Capital Markets Group (NYSE: FBR) managing director Paul Miller told Reuters. "The capital raises will be much bigger than people think."

Miller said that uncertainty about what the tests might reveal has made banks stocks "uninvestable" in the near term.

The issue for investors is that “you just don’t know how the government is going to view it," Miller said.

Public release of the stress test results is set for Thursday. The government is scheduled to brief the top officials of the banks themselves tomorrow (Tuesday).

Although all but one of the 19 major U.S. banks the government has stress-tested reportedly passed, many skeptics believe the banks are still using all sorts of accounting dodges to keep from revealing just much they still hold in toxic assets and bad loans, National Public Radio reported.

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