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The Deal: U.S. Banks Face Tougher Capital Mandate Than Global Rivals

NEW YORK (The Deal) -- Building upon last week's action by the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. on Tuesday proposed that the country's eight globally significant banks hold capital equal to 6% of assets, in some cases more than doubling what the Fed required on July 2 when it implemented international guidelines on bank capital.

The action will have the practical effect of restraining big banks' reliance on debt to finance their activities and prodding them to seek additional equity capital. If finalized, the requirements would take effect Jan. 1, 2018.

The move was expected -- Fed officials last week acknowledged that its action would soon be supplemented by the FDIC, and banking regulators have acknowledged in public comments for months that the biggest U.S. institutions likely would be under tougher constraints than Basel requires.

The affected institutions are JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Citigroup (C), Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Wells Fargo Bank (WFC), Goldman Sachs (GS), Morgan Stanley (MS), Bank of New York Mellon (BK) and State Street (STT).

The banking industry quickly reacted with a harsh assessment of the FDIC's action.

"While we support financial institutions holding more capital, this new proposal, combined with existing capital and leverage requirements, will make it harder for banks to lend and keep the economic recovery going," said Tim Pawlenty, president of the Financial Services Roundtable, the trade group for the 100 largest financial companies. "To increase the safety and soundness of the industry, the vast majority of banks have already made important strides to increase capital levels. This new heightened requirement would only impact U.S. institutions, resulting in American banks being put at a global competitive disadvantage."

Frank Keating, president of the American Bankers Association, said federal regulators' stress tests show that the largest U.S. banks are already well capitalized and the latest move will serve only to increase the cost of capital. "Just when there appears to be some agreement on international capital standards, U.S. regulators are proposing to undermine the whole exercise under a mistaken belief that doubling capital requirements will have no impact on credit availability or the ability to hedge risk."

Although the ABA criticized the latest international capital standards -- drafted by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision and known as Basel III -- Keating said the Basel accords at least had the merit of creating a similar framework for global banking institutions.

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