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Bank Stress Tests are Cruel, But Fair: Street Whispers (Update 1)

Updated with Stifel Nicolaus analysts Christopher Mutascio's comments on the Federal Reserve's 2013 stress test scenarios.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- For its next round of stress tests for the 19 largest U.S. bank holding companies, the Federal Reserve has introduced some new twists, but also thrown a gift to the banks that may face rejection of their initial plans to return capital to investors.

For the largest bank holding companies, the annual stress are called the Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review, or CCAR.

Companies that had their initial 2012 capital plans in March rejected in full or in part, including Citigroup (C), SunTrust (STI) and Fifth Third Bancorp (FITB), had to wait until August for their revised capital plans to be approved. Of the three, only Fifth Third was approved in August for a dividend boost. Neither Citi nor SunTrust requested a dividend increase or share buybacks in their revised 2012 capital plans.

During the next round of stress tests, banks with capital plans rejected by the Federal Reserve will receive feedback during the stress test process and can lower their capital return plans before the Fed approves or rejects the capital plans, increasing the chances of modest -- or better -- returns of capital to investors.

According to Credit Suisse analyst Craig Seigenthaler, this "one-time adjustment" option will enable banks whose initial 2012 capital returns were rejected, as well as banks like Regions Financial (RF) and Zions Bancorporation (ZION) -- both of which in 2012 repaid government bailout funds received in 2008 through the Troubled Assets Relief Program or TARP -- to present more aggressive plans to return capital during 2013 than previously expected.

For the 2012 stress tests conducted during the first quarter, the Federal Reserve used an "Adverse Scenario" that included real U.S. GDP contracting "sharply through late 2012, with the unemployment rate reaching a peak of just over 13 percent in mid-2013," while also assuming "that U.S. equity prices [fell] by 50 percent from their Q3 2011 values through late 2012 and that U.S. house prices fall by more than 20% through the end of 2013." In addition, "foreign real GDP growth [was] also assumed to contract, with growth slowdowns in Europe and Asia in 2012."

In order to have their capital plans approved the banks subjected the stress tests had to show that their estimated Tier 1 capital ratios at the end of 2013 would remain above 5%, "with all proposed capital actions through Q4 2013."

Stock quotes in this article: C, RF, FITB, STI, ZION 

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