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VOL. 44 | NO. 51 | Friday, December 18, 2020

Fed finds big US banks in solid shape; keeps dividend limits

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve said Friday that the 33 largest U.S. banks are in strong shape despite the pandemic's economic shock.

The banks have ample capital cushions girding them against unexpected losses and that will also enable them to keep lending even under the most severe straits, the central bank said.

The Fed disclosed the results from a special second round of "stress tests" that it added this year because of damage to the economy from the virus outbreak. The pandemic has killed more than 300,000 Americans, closed hundreds of thousands of businesses and pushed unemployment to levels not seen since the Great Depression.

The tests showed that all 33 banks remain above their minimum requirements for capital — money they don't have to pay back to creditors or depositors — to protect against risk, the Fed said.

Still, the regulators decided to maintain restrictions on banks paying out dividends or buying back their own stock through March. In September, the Fed extended the limits through year's end, based on stress test results in June that showed how the banks would perform under severe economic conditions if they took those dividend or stock actions.

Increasing dividends costs money. The regulators don't want banks to shrink their capital reserves and leave the financial system vulnerable during this precarious time for the economy. It was the first time U.S. regulators had ordered such restrictions since the aftermath of the Great Recession a decade ago.

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