U.S. May Soon Release Bank Stress Tests

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, left, talks with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 24, 2009, before the start of a House Financial Services Committee hearing on AIG. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) AP Photo/Susan Walsh

The Obama administration is working on plans to disclose the results of financial "stress tests" undergone by the nation's 19 biggest banks, according to a New York Times report Wednesday.

The move comes earlier than anticipated and is designed to soothe nervous investors who might otherwise avoid banks thought to be the weakest.

The stress tests are supposed to gauge a bank's financial health, specifically whether it has enough cash on hand to weather a continued economic downturn. Banks without enough capital could get more federal funds to meet their needs.

Last week, the Federal Reserve ordered banks to keep the test results a secret, as government officials expected to formally release the results later this month. As the Times points out, the government usually does not disclose results of bank evaluations for fear of sending investors and depositors fleeing.

But Goldman Sachs' recently announced plans to raise $5 billion in capital to pay back government bailout funds - a move suggesting executives are confident in their own test results - has pressured other banks to follow suit or risk looking weak, the Times reports.

"The purpose of this program is to prevent panics, not cause them," an unnamed senior official told the Times. "And it's becoming clearer that we and the banks are going to have to explain clearly where each bank falls in the spectrum."

The government may now ask banks to release some of the information likely to come out in the results, such as how much capital they would require to survive specific hypothetical crises.

According to a Treasury Department official, the stress tests are still underway, so any released information may not provide a complete picture.

The financial markets seem to be stabilizing in recent weeks. Goldman's announcement Monday of $1.66 billion in profit for the last quarter followed Wells Fargo's surprise revelation last week that they turned record profit during the same period.

Citigroup and Bank of America have also signaled positive results for the quarter. The financial sector has bolstered Wall Street recently, as rediscovered investor optimism has advanced the Dow Jones industrials more than 20 percent in the last five weeks.
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