Tags: imf | banks | healthy

Magic Number for Healthy Banks Already Close

Wednesday, 06 May 2009 10:49 AM

By Dan Weil

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A recent report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) shows that U.S. banks are healthier than many experts have maintained.

James Surowiecki, The New Yorker’s economic correspondent, writes on the magazine’s Web site, “There was one striking number in the IMF report, an estimate of how much money the U.S. banking system would need to become… well-capitalized: $275 billion.”

He points out that’s a smaller number than many experts have cited. More importantly, “the IMF was estimating was how much tangible common equity the banks would need,” he says.

Tangible common equity includes only capital raised from common shareholders.

“So the IMF was saying was the banks needed another $275 billion in common equity to be well-capitalized.”

While that’s still a big number, “the hundreds of billions of dollars that the government has put into the banking system… has been in the form of preferred shares, not tangible common equity,” Surowiecki writes.

“If the government converts most of its investments from preferred shares to common stock … and gets other preferred shareholders to do the same, then… according to the IMF estimate, the banking system will be well-capitalized again.”

While an across-the-board conversion of preferred shares to common shares is unlikely, “the IMF numbers suggest the banking system as a whole doesn’t actually need significantly more capital,” Surowiecki explains.

Others disagree.

Even assuming the economy just worsens a bit, some banks “still don’t have enough capital to withstand the risks and losses,” financial author Martin Weiss tells Moneynews.com.

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