Stress test results: most banks fine, Goldman struggles

It's not a problem though, says the bank.

Bank stress tests have come round again - and almost all banks are fine. 

Is this a surprise? What actually goes on in a stress test? Well basically, the FED pitches banks against hypothetical economic scenarios, seeing whether they'd stand up to them - which is really testing whether they have a sufficient cushion of capital in the case of "deep global recession". So stress tests are an attempt to safeguard against another 2008 scenario. But now, a few years on from the crisis, the tests are more being used as a gateway for bank payouts. Of the 18 tested, only one failed - (Ally), and for the 17 that passed the tests will pave the way for increased dividends and share buybacks.

Interesting weaknesses showed up in the case of Goldman Sachs - which finished third from last.

Here's the FT:

Goldman, normally renowned for its resilience, would suffer a $20bn loss in the depths of the hypothetical crisis and its ratio of core “tier one common equity” capital against risk-weighted assets would fall to 5.8 per cent, compared with a minimum requirement of 5 per cent, the Fed said.

..but the bank doesn't think this will be much of a problem:

Howard Chen, bank analyst at Credit Suisse told the FT: “Importantly, we do not believe this negatively impacts our capital return assumptions."

Aside from the test results themselves banks had another concern: whether other banks would jump the gun and announce plans for payouts to shareholders early, like JP Morgan did last year. Some called it a prisoner's dilemma scenario - if one bank goes, they all do. But the Fed asked banks not to make public their plans before next week's announcement.

Here's the chart - also available here, amongst other details.

 

Goldman Sachs building. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.