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Banks May Get Year-End Volcker Breather (Update 1)

Updated from 1:56 p.m. ET with the American Banker's Association's withdrawal of a request for federal regulators to temporarily block restrictions on CDO investments backed by trust preferred securities.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The regulators keep talking, but they won't answer the question for another two weeks.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. on Monday sent a letter to all U.S. banks, repeating what all the federal banking regulators -- including the FDIC, the Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency -- along with the Securities and Exchange Commission, said on Friday.  The four regulators said they were reviewing whether it would be "appropriate and consistent with the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act not to subject collateralized debt obligations backed by trust preferred securities to the investment prohibitions of section 619 of Dodd-Frank, otherwise known as the 'Volcker rule.'"

The regulators on Friday, and the FDIC in its letter on Monday, said they would announce their decision by Jan. 15.

So not only do the banks not know whether or not the CDOs will be banned, which would cause many community banks to book significant losses, they don't know when the CDOs might be banned, or how to treat the securities in their fourth-quarter financial statements.

The FDIC in its letter Monday helpfully advised the banks that "any actions [by the regulators] in January 2014 that occur before the issuance of December 31, 2013, financial reports... should be considered when preparing those financial reports."

The regulators haven't made it clear just how much they might back off from their objection to a request, and then a lawsuit, by several community banks and the American Bankers Association to stop implementation of the Volcker Rule's ban on CDOs backed by trust preferred securities.

The ABA responded to the regulators' new plan to review Volcker's CDO restrictions on Monday by dropping its court request for a temporary suspension of the portion of Volcker regulations banning the CDOs backed by trust preferred securities, according to a Bloomberg report.  The ABA and group of community banks did not withdraw their lawsuit against the regulators, however.

One bank that will not have any negative surprises by the regulators' delayed decision is  Zions Bancorporation (ZION) of Salt Lake City.  The bank on Dec. 16 announced it had determined that "substantially all" of its investments in trust preferred collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) would be disallowed under Volcker. The company said it would record a fourth-quarter other-than-temporary impairment charge of $629 million on the transfer of disallowed held-to-maturity securities to held-for-sale. The bank also said it had until July 21, 2015 to sell the trust preferred CDOs, "unless, upon application, the Federal Reserve grants extensions to July 21, 2017."

Then again, sharesholders of Zions could be in for a pleasant surprise, in mid-January.

KBW analyst Collyn Gilbert wrote in a note to clients on Dec. 16 that there were two community banks -- Sun Bancorp (SNBC) of Vineland, N.J., and First Commonwealth Financial (FCF - Get Report) of Indiana, Pa. -- under her firm's coverage that could see relatively large losses from the sale of securities springing from the Volcker Rule.

-- Written by Philip van Doorn in Jupiter, Fla.

>Contact by Email.

Philip W. van Doorn is a member of TheStreet's banking and finance team, commenting on industry and regulatory trends. He previously served as the senior analyst for Ratings, responsible for assigning financial strength ratings to banks and savings and loan institutions. Mr. van Doorn previously served as a loan operations officer at Riverside National Bank in Fort Pierce, Fla., and as a credit analyst at the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, where he monitored banks in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Mr. van Doorn has additional experience in the mutual fund and computer software industries. He holds a bachelor of science in business administration from Long Island University.

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