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OPINION

Bailed out banks chafe against government controls

The US Treasury has criticized banks for reducing lending after it bailed them out. The banks say they are doing their best and want to pay government capital back. A row is brewing.

In his testimony to the Congressional oversight panel last month, US Treasury secretary Tim Geithner noted that credit conditions had improved in recent weeks and months, with the Libor-OIS spread coming down to about 90 basis points from its October 2008 peak of 365 and corporate bond issuance and issuance of asset-backed securities both rising strongly in the first quarter.

However, he also highlighted reports on bank lending that showed big declines in consumer loans, including credit card loans, as well as commercial and industrial loans. The clear implication is that the banks, having been bailed out by the taxpayer, are not doing their bit to help recovery.

Geithner’s remarks and those from bank chief executives reporting healthy first-quarter profits hint at rising tensions between policymakers and managements of financial institutions.

Goldman Sachs appeared to jump the gun on the Treasury’s stress tests – the results of which were due at the start of May – by selling $5 billion of equity in mid April so that it can redeem the Tarp capital provided by the US government last October as soon as its supervisors permit.

JPMorgan chairman and chief executive James Dimon, not to be outdone, claimed that his bank is sufficiently well capitalized – with $87 billion of tangible common equity, equivalent to 7.2%

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