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Moody's Downgrades 10 Regional Banks


NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Moody's downgraded 10 regional banks late Monday to reflect the fact that it's no longer assuming the federal government would step in and prop them up if need be now that the worst of the financial crisis has passed.

The agency telegraphed the move back in July, placing the ratings on review for possible downgrade. In Monday's statement announcing the downgrades, it cited the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act over the summer as a key event in changing its stance, saying that through the legislation "the government signaled its intent to limit support for individual banks."

The call affects the deposit ratings of bank subsidiaries of the holding companies of BB&T Corp. (BBT), Capital One (COF), Fifth Third Bancorp (FITB), KeyCorp (KEY), PNC Financial (PNC), Popular Inc. (BPOP), Regions Financial (RF), Suntrust Banks (STI), U.S. Bancorp (USB), and Zions Bancorp (ZION).

"The downgrades reflect our view that the likelihood of government support for these 10 institutions is lower now that the U.S. banking system has moved beyond the depths of the financial crisis," said Robert Young, Managing Director for Moody's North American Bank Ratings, in a statement. "The failure of any one of these banks therefore would be unlikely to trigger contagion and systemic risk."

The specifics of the downgrades differ for the various banks. For example, BB&T's long-term ratings were placed on review as well while SunTrust also received an upgrade of its stand-alone bank strength rating to C from C-. Regions experienced a two-notch downgrade of its bank-level debt and deposit ratings and a one-notch cut it its holding company rating.

Moody's added that its ratings outlook for the subsidiaries of American Express (AXP) also changed, going to negative from stable to reflect the removal of the assumption of government support for the financial system.

The ratings outlook for four of the banks remains negative -- Regions, Popular, and U.S. Bancorp -- while Zions still has a positive outlook. For Capital One, Fifth Third and KeyCorp, the outlook went to stable from negative, while for PNC it went to positive from stable and for SunTrust it went to stable as part of the upgrade mentioned earlier.

"These outlook changes reflect the banks' improving credit metrics and strengthened capital profiles relative to our previous expectations, particularly at PNC and SunTrust," said Allen Tischler, Moody's Vice President and Lead Analyst for Fifth Third, KeyCorp, SunTrust, and PNC, in the statement.

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