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Bernanke: Fed Stimulus Tied To Economy's Health

But lawmakers appeared less sympathetic to such complaints, particularly after seeing big second-quarter profits reported this month by Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo.

"It's no surprise that mega-banks are doing quite well, yet they continue to claim that ....regulations are killing them," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

Brown asked Bernanke if smaller bonuses and fewer dividends are a fair price to pay for a safer financial system.

Bernanke said the first concern should be how those regulations affect lending. But he agreed that banks could handle the costs.

"Given the enormous cost of the crisis ... strong measures to prevent (a) repeat are obviously well-justified on a cost-benefit basis," he said.

Starting next year, banks must maintain a buffer of high-quality capital equal to 4.5 percent of their loans and other assets, under rules adopted this month by the Fed. That's up from a 4 percent requirement for capital that's not restricted to high-quality capital, such as bank stock or earnings retained by the bank.

And the Fed this month proposed that the eight largest U.S. banks hold equity equal to at least 5 percent of their total loans and assets. That's up from 3 percent. The rule could be finalized before the year ends.

During the hearing, Bernanke didn't stray from his comments earlier in the week on the Fed's low interest rate policies. The policies have spurred a stock market rally and encouraged more borrowing and spending.

Bernanke repeated his position that there is no "preset course" for the Fed's $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program. Any change will depend on the economy's performance.

And he said that the Fed could hold its benchmark short-term interest rate near zero even after unemployment falls below 6.5 percent. He said policymakers might consider keeping the rate down longer if inflation stays well below the Fed's 2 percent target rate.

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