NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Financial stocks were up marginally on Friday, with big banks' pushback against tough reform measures and American International Group's (AIG) continued progress towards independence dominating the chatter on Wall Street.
The KBW Bank Index was up 0.6% at 52.35 by noon, better than broader market indexes, which were wavering as oil prices dropped sharply and investors assessed how the massive earthquake in Japan would impact the markets.
Meanwhile, AIG was grabbing headlines for offering the Federal Reserve $15.7 billion to buy back a big bundle of toxic debt that the Fed has been holding since AIG's bailout in the fall of 2008. It also plans to name two new directors, John H. Fitzpatrick and W. Don Cornwell, to its board of directors, according to a report.
The insurance giant has made significant strides lately to repay the federal government, implement stricter actuarial and risk standards and ensure that it can succeed as a standalone entity without taxpayer support. AIG is waiting for the U.S. Treasury Department to begin offering 1.65 billion shares to the public market - the final step of its bailout exit - later this year.In recent trading, AIG was up 3.5% at $37.74. Among the winners in the U.S. banking sector were regional stocks like Capital One (COF), up 2% at $49.25; BB&T (BBT), up 1.9% at $27.03 and Zions Bancorp (ZION), up 1.5% at $23.26. Meanwhile, U.S. Bancorp (USB), the biggest of big regional bank stocks, was losing 0.5% at $27.05, with all the changes on little news directly related to the companies. Big banks have been working to limit the impact of financial reform rules, particularly the Durbin amendment that will curb debit card fees that merchants must pay. On Friday, in a powerful sign of support, the NAACP joined the banking industry in its opposition to the measure, which stands to impose fees on consumers in exchange for the revenue that banks can no longer get from merchants. The banking industry has also been trying to sway public opinion against a proposal by federal and state authorities to force banks to offer principal writedowns for homeowners who are under water on mortgage loans and struggling to make payments. Top banking executives including Wells Fargo (WFC) CEO John Stumpf, JPMorgan Chase (JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon and Bank of America (BAC) CEO Brian Moynihan have in recent days warned against issuing a blanket debt forgiveness. The bank CEOs say it will incent borrowers to not pay their bills and warp customers' notions of debt obligations.
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