“This is another addition to the big regulation puzzle that global banks have to look at to figure out how they operate,” said Peter Davis, a principal in the financial- services division of Ernst & Young LLP. “The U.S. is not alone in changing the rules of the game for foreign banks in its jurisdiction. So the global bank has to put all the changes together in its consideration of how to proceed.”
The foreign banks with assets exceeding $50 billion in the U.S., 23 of the roughly 25 companies, would face the toughest standards under the Fed’s proposal. They would have to keep in their U.S. unit enough cash, Treasuries or other easy-to-sell assets to meet liabilities coming due in 30 days. Those units would face Fed stress tests annually like their U.S. peers and could be prevented from paying dividends to their parent company if they fail the test.
“We are reviewing the proposed rules and, based on earlier Federal Reserve Board comments, we are confident that we have options that will allow us to implement the new regulations in the prescribed time frame,” Michael O’Looney, a Barclays spokesman in New York, said in an e-mailed statement.
Switzerland, whose banking system is five times the size of the nation’s economy, proposed in 2010 to give priority to the domestic units of its two largest lenders if they fail, indicating that overseas businesses might be left on their own.
In the U.K., where banks’ assets are also five times the nation’s gross domestic product, regulators have said they plan to require lenders based in Britain to insulate domestic consumer-banking businesses from investment-banking and foreign operations.
Most of the largest foreign institutions have small commercial-banking units in the U.S., where their operations are largely centered on securities trading.
Through the 1990s, most foreign banks borrowed from their parent companies to lend in the U.S. and had excess cash reserves to meet local requirements. The trend reversed early last decade, when foreign firms started borrowing in the U.S. to lend overseas. Their trading in the U.S. surged to 50 percent of assets in 2011 from 13 percent in 1995, Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo said last month.
When Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. collapsed in 2008, European creditors alleged that $8 billion of cash had been transferred to the firm’s New York headquarters days before the bankruptcy. When Iceland’s banks failed that same year, the government agreed to pay local customers while leaving British and Dutch depositors trying to recoup more than $5 billion.
To reduce links between banks, the Fed’s plan would also set limits on credit exposures between foreign financial institutions similar to those already proposed on U.S. lenders. U.S. intermediate holding companies of foreign banks wouldn’t be allowed to have aggregate net credit exposure to another company that exceeds 25 percent of the holding company’s regulatory capital. The caps would be even lower on credit exposures between companies with more than $500 billion in assets.
U.S. banks, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc., balked earlier this year at a Fed proposal that would limit financial firms with at least $500 billion in assets from having credit risk to any other exceeding 10 percent of regulatory capital plus excess loan-loss reserves. The Fed has gone back to study that proposal and said it won’t set a specific limit on the credit exposures of the largest foreign banks until it decides how to treat domestic bank holding companies.