Feeling Good About Bank Stress Tests? Don't Be.

File:Marriner S. Eccles Federal Reserve Board Building.jpg

Image source: Wikipedia


The Federal Reserve recently reported the results of its annual economic stress tests for banks. The test supposedly indicates how banks can be expected "to perform under certain hypothetical economic conditions."

The reason it is termed a stress test is because the hypothetical conditions are negative in nature...

"The 2024 stress test shows that the 31 large banks subject to the test this year have sufficient capital to absorb nearly $685 billion in losses and continue lending to households and businesses under stressful conditions.2024 Federal Reserve Stress Test Results, Executive Summary

The June 26, 2024 press release stated that the "Federal Reserve Board annual bank stress test showed that while large banks would endure greater losses than last year's test, they are well positioned to weather a severe recession and stay above minimum capital requirements".

This year's test was modified to be more stringent in order to reflect the possibility of more severe liquidity problems for banks in light of numerous bank failures experienced last year, highlighted by Silicon Valley Bank (SVB). Below is how the matter was addressed by Fed Chair Jerome Powell at that time...

"So, I guess our view is that the banking system is sound and it's resilient—it's got strong capital [and] liquidity. We took powerful actions with [the] Treasury and the FDIC, which demonstrate that all depositors' savings are safe and that the banking system is safe. (Mar 22, 2023) 

The statement was a bit premature as other banks subsequently failed.  Anxiety was calmed, however, and fears were tempered. A follow-up statement by Chair Powell provided additional reassurance...

"The U.S. banking system is sound and resilient, with strong levels of capital and liquidity. (Powell, July 23, 2023)


What if conditions are worse than those simulated in the stress tests? In financial and economic matters, it almost always seems to be that way. The current stress test parameters allow for declining interest rates. The Fed may want to see rates lowered in a crisis, but wholesale dumping of worthless credit obligations would send interest rates through the roof. We saw that in 2008 with residential mortgages specifically and bonds in general. The Fed might not be able to stem the tide with purchases for their own account as they did then.

Banks are notoriously illiquid. There are no reserve requirements. The 10% fractional reserve requirement based on bank deposits was eliminated several years ago. That's not much, but, at least it provided a measure of (il)liquidity and a margin of solvency. It is not unrealistic to assume that some banks now, probably have loaned out more money than they have in total deposits.

The deposit was eliminated for two reasons: 1) to support efforts to flood the economy with money in response to the forced Covid shutdown and resumption of economic activity afterward and 2) most banks were probably in danger of violating the existing 10% reserve requirement; remove the requirement and the problem goes away - for a little while, maybe. (see more about fractional-reserve banking)

The banks aren't satisfied, though. They want less stringent requirements.


The extent and duration of any pending financial and economic crises will be worse than any previous ones. The events themselves and their negative effects will confirm the bank stress tests as being inadequate, unreliable, and virtually worthless.

More By This Author:

Inflation - How It Started And Where We Are Now
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Economic Growth Or Dead Cat Bounce?

Kelsey Williams Is The Author Of Two Books: Inflation, What It Is, What It Isn't, And Who's Responsible For It And  more

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