Federal regulators said Wednesday that five of the country's largest banks, including JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, still don't have credible plans for winding down their operations without taxpayer help if they start to fail.
These so-called ''living wills'' are a critical requirement of the 2010 financial reform package, Dodd-Frank, aimed at a preventing a repeat of the taxpayer bailouts that took place during the 2007-2008 financial crisis. The regulators found various problems with the plans submitted by Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon, JPMorgan Chase, State Street, and Wells Fargo.
The rejection appears likely to fuel populist concerns that US banks are still ''too big to fail.'' It comes as many in the banking sector are preparing to report weaker financial results for the first quarter of the year. Volatility in the stock market, China's slowing economy, and the fall in oil prices have battered their bottom lines. JPMorgan on Wednesday reported a 7 percent drop in profits for the three-month period.
The banking industry sought to soften the findings, arguing that Wall Street today is still stronger than it was before the financial crisis.
''No financial company should be considered too big to fail,'' said John Dearie, acting chief executive of the Financial Services Forum, a banking industry group. ''It is in the best interest of the industry that all large institutions have credible resolutions plans and, with that in mind, institutions will continue to work to address the technical shortcomings identified in this round of regulatory feedback.''
Congress has demanded that big banks regularly submit detailed bankruptcy plans showing how they would unwind their operations without requiring taxpayer help.
But the regulators found shortcomings with Bank of America's plan, for example, to dismantle its portfolio of derivatives, financial instruments investors can use to make bets. JPMorgan, the country's largest bank, doesn't have a credible plan for keeping money flowing through its businesses during a bankruptcy, the regulators said.
''Obviously we were disappointed,'' Marianne Lake, the chief financial officer of JPMorgan, said during a conference call with investors Wednesday morning. ''The most important thing is that we work with our regulators to understand their feedback in more detail. And we are fully committed to meeting their expectations.''
JPMorgan's chairman and chief executive Jamie Dimon added that the bank has consistently worked to meet federal regulators' demands in the years since the Dodd-Frank financial reform law was adopted.
''We're trying to meet all the regulations, all the rules and all the requirements,'' Dimon said. ''They have their job to do and we have to conform to it.''
The five banks have until October to address the problems found by the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. If the deficiencies aren't addressed and their plans are still not deemed sufficient, the banks could face higher capital requirements or other regulatory sanctions.
''The FDIC and Federal Reserve are committed to carrying out the statutory mandate that systemically important financial institutions demonstrate a clear path to an orderly failure under bankruptcy at no cost to taxpayers,'' Martin J. Gruenberg, chairman of the FDIC, said in a statement.
Beyond the so-called living wills, regulators are facing fresh threats to other measures put in place to respond to the financial crisis. For instance, regulators have attempted to identify financial firms, apart from banks, that could pose a threat to the economy. These firms have traditionally received little government scrutiny, but after the massive insurance company AIG nearly collapsed in 2008 and required a $182 billion taxpayer bailout, lawmakers called for stricter oversight of this portion of the financial industry.
So a government panel labeled four firms — AIG, Prudential, General Electric's financing arm, and MetLife — as ''systemically important financial institutions,'' subjecting them to tougher government rules.
But General Electric is now arguing that it no longer qualifies for the designation because it has sold off units and shrunk its balance sheet. And MetLife, which was founded in 1868 and has a global footprint of 100 million customers and a market capitalization of $48 billion, has filed a lawsuit that now threatens the entire process.
Earlier this month, US District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer overturned the company's ''too big to fail'' label and challenged the process the government used. The Treasury Department is appealing the ruling, which experts have said could hobble this portion of the financial reform law.