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Stress tests clear banks to nurse U.S. economy

Bob Moon Mar 14, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: America’s 19 biggest banks are now officially stress-free — at least the 15 that passed the Federal Reserve’s inspection, results of which were announced yesterday. Did wonders for the stock market to know that banks are healthy enough to weather a hypothetical financial storm.

But as we’ve said ad infinitum on this program, the Dow Industrials are not the economy. So what did the passing grades really mean? Here’s our senior business correspondent Bob Moon.

Bob Moon: One columnist suggested today that the stress test results might clear the way for more business investment and — by implication — more hiring. The theory being companies might worry less about their credit lines being cut off again should the economy go south.  

At Moody’s Analytics, chief economist Mark Zandi says it’ll also take more demand for goods and services to restore business confidence. But at least the stress tests set the stage for that to happen.

Mark Zandi: We need a banking system that’s on solid ground, and I think we’ve got it. And that means that banks will extend credit, and credit will be able to power economic growth going forward. So it’s a necessary condition for a good economy.

At Brown University, economist David Wyss agrees the banks are in a better position to nurture the economic recovery.

David Wyss: It means that the banks should be a little more willing to lend you money to buy the new car, or even to buy a new house.

But the question is, will you, your neighbor or the boss be in the market to borrow more money? As we’ve heard month after month, much of that depends on consumer confidence. And the Federal Reserve is clearly hoping that the upbeat stress test results will restore that faith.

Zandi: From my perspective, this stress test is for real.

Mark Zandi at Moody’s says the results of this hypothetical deep downturn suggest consumers and investors should be reassured. This is what he’s been telling his clients today.

Zandi: If our banking system can digest this, then it could pretty much digest anything, and is up to the task of extending the credit needed for the economy to grow.

In other words, now that the banks are healthy, they’re ready to nurse the rest of us with credit, what Zandi calls “the mother’s milk of economic activity.”

I’m Bob Moon for Marketplace.

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