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Dodd-Frank Easing May Be Long-Term Negative for U.S. Banks, Analysts

May 25, 2018, 08:00 AM
Filed Under: Regulatory News

New financial reform legislation easing the Dodd-Frank Act (DFA) for smaller and custodial banks is not likely to be a near-term ratings issue but could be negative for some banks' credit profiles over the long term, if it results in significantly reduced capital levels, Fitch Ratings says. The congressional legislation, which was signed into law by President Trump, eases the capital and regulatory requirements for smaller institutions and custody banks. Fitch views robust regulation and capital as supportive of bank creditworthiness.

Key attributes of the legislation raise the systemic threshold to $250 billion from $50 billion for enhanced prudential standards (EPS), reduce stress testing requirements and modify applicability of proprietary trading rules (the Volcker Rule). The legislation reduces regulations for U.S. small to mid-size banks in particular, while only providing de-minimis regulatory relief to the largest U.S. banks. The change to the systemic threshold reduces the number of banks subject to heightened regulatory oversight to 12 from 38. Regulators will still have discretion to apply EPS to banks with $100 billion-$250 billion in assets. Banks above $250 billion in assets would not see much benefit from the legislation.

The biggest potential change to regulatory and capital requirements is for banks under $100 billion in assets, exempting them from DFA stress test requirements. From Fitch's perspective, stress testing has provided discipline for banks and is an important risk governance practice that is considered in its rating analysis. The elimination or meaningful reduction of stress testing would likely have negative ratings implications.

Technically, the Fed's CCAR process is not considered EPS and therefore the lower $50 billion proposed threshold isn't applicable to CCAR, which applies to banks over $50 billion in assets. However, exempting banks with under $100 billion in assets from stress testing requirements makes it likely the Fed would align its CCAR testing requirements with Congress' new thresholds. Banks with over $250 billion in assets would still be required to run CCAR; however, banks between $100 billion and $250 billion in assets would be subject to periodic rather than annual stress testing requirements.

Trust and custody banks would benefit from the potential carve out of central bank deposits to their supplementary leverage ratios, allowing for increased leverage. However, the joint banking regulators' notice of proposed rulemaking (NPR) on the enhanced supplementary leverage ratio (eSLR) noted the proposed recalibration of the eSLR was contingent on the capital rules' current definitions of tier 1 capital and total leverage exposure, which is being significantly altered by this legislation. The NPR specifically stated: "Significant changes to either of these components would likely necessitate reconsideration of the proposed recalibration as the proposal is not intended to materially change the aggregate amount of capital in the banking system." The regulators' response to this definition change only for the custody banks remains unclear. Ultimately, how much custody banks increase their leverage will also dictate ratings implications.

Banks with less than $10 billion in assets would be exempt from Volcker Rule restrictions on speculative trading, and banks originating less than 500 mortgages annually would be exempt from some of the record-keeping requirements of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. The Volcker Rule exemption would not aid large banks that must still demonstrate compliance with the rule. The legislation would also require U.S. regulators to consider certain investment-grade municipal securities as high-quality liquid assets for liquidity coverage calculations.

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