Saturday, December 5, 2009

US FDIC to meet on capital relief, securitizations

Posted on Reuters:

U.S. bank regulators will meet on Dec. 15 to consider a proposal that would give banks more time to build capital cushions against more than $1 trillion of assets they will have to move back on their books next month.

The board of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp will also consider a proposal to spur responsible securitizations, by offering banks extra protection for the loans, a spokesman said on Friday.

Banks will have to move assets held by off-balance-sheet trusts back on their balance sheets on Jan. 1. It is an attempt to bring more transparency to banks' financial statements.

An FDIC spokesman said that Chairman Sheila Bair is flexible about phasing in the capital impact of the change, which she has said could harm recovery in securitization markets.

Banks have used off-balance-sheet vehicles to avoid reporting requirements and to reduce the amount of capital they need to satisfy regulatory requirements.

As the financial storm gathered in 2008, uncertainty about some of those vehicles and the quality of securitizations helped undermine confidence in banks and accelerated the financial crisis.

The proposal to give banks extra protection for securitizations calls for them to voluntarily retain an ownership interest in the loans they package into securities, known as keeping "skin in the game."

Securitizations fueled the recent financial crisis because bad loans were packaged and then sliced and diced into securities that widely spread risk through the financial system.

The market for securitizations virtually froze during the crisis and has only recently begun to thaw, largely due to government support.

The FDIC's proposal would grant a "safe harbor" protection to securitizations that follow the new rules. The safe harbor would mean the FDIC would not try to reclaim the securitized loans if the bank fails and goes into receivership.

Besides retaining an ownership interest in the securitizations, banks would also have to tighten underwriting standards and disclose more details about the underlying assets, which could include individual mortgages and other debt backing the bonds.

The rules would be voluntary, but banks could be enticed to follow them because the safe harbor protection and the higher standards could mean better credit ratings and prices for the securitizations.

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