Benefits seen in stress test findings

Bank sign with crack.

TEXT OF STORY

BOB MOON: The whole idea of those banking-industry stress tests was providing some clarity about their financial health. Put them on a treadmill, and see how they'd perform in the event of further trouble. It was never really clear, though, what the Treasury would do with the results. There was some concern that releasing the information could be bad news for the sickest banks. Investors and clients might stop doing business with them, worried they might collapse. Another issue was raised today on MSNBC by the Congressional bailout watchdog Elizabeth Warren: What if the stress test isn't thorough enough to be convincing?

ELIZABETH WARREN: You've got to believe the numbers, so that everyone can say, Hey, these are the banks that are solvent, these are the banks that are not solvent.

Plenty of people on Wall Street and on Capitol Hill have been demanding that kind of transparency. And it looks as though the government is willing to take a bit of a risk. Today it said it'll release certain details about the tests. Ashley Milne-Tyte reports from New York.


ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE: Transparency has been a big issue for this plan since it was first announced. Doug Elliott is a senior follow at the Brookings Institution. He says regulators may argue that keeping quiet about the results may be the best way to keep the banks safe. But he says no one even knows exactly what the tests entail.

DOUG ELLIOTT: It would be very helpful to explain more of the details of how the tests were actually preformed. We don't necessarily know, for example, how they went about valuing the so-called toxic assets.

Some banks are certain to need more capital, says Stacey Schreft. She directs investment strategy at the Mutual Fund Store. She says if the government had tried to keep a lid on the state of the banks' health, it could have spooked investors. She says some disclosure was inevitable.

STACEY SCHREFT: Once you tell people you're doing the tests, it's kind of hard to not tell them what the results are. Because you're immediately going to think the results must be bad, if they don't want to to tell us.

Saying nothing about the plan could prompt some wild speculation about banks' performances. Gerard Cassidy is a banking analyst at RBC Capital Markets. He says the sooner the government releases some information the better.

GERARD CASSIDY: Because if they don't release some good details on the results, we believe they will leak out. There will be some rumors that will probably circulate, and that will certainly negatively impact the banks.

Then there's always the possibility one of the banks could hint that it's just fine, thank you. Cassidy says either way the government needs to set the rules or the banks could get in there first.

In New York, I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

About the author

Ashley Milne-Tyte is the host of a podcast about women in the workplace called The Broad Experience.

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