Fed's Kashkari says banks should raise money, halt dividends

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Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari says that large U.S. banks should raise $200 billion from private investors and stop paying dividends so they can support the economy.

"The most patriotic thing they could do today would be to stop paying dividends and raise equity capital, to ensure that they can endure a deep economic downturn," Kashkari writes in a Financial Times op-ed.

Neel Kashkari, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
Neel Kashkari, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Under severe coronavirus scenarios, large banks with assets of more than $100 billion each could together lose hundreds of billions of dollars of equity capital, stress test modeling by the Minneapolis Fed indicates.

A prolonged coronavirus crisis could put banks at risk through a trickle-down effect. As businesses struggle to pay rent, landlords wouldn't make mortgage payments, forcing banks to pay interest on their own liabilities. Doing otherwise, Kashkari warns, would trigger a default. "So they must pay their creditors while absorbing the losses out of their equity," he adds.

Kashkari, who oversaw the Troubled Asset Relief Program in the 2008-9, gave the example of U.S. taxpayers injecting about $200 billion of capital to strengthen banks back in 2008. If the current crisis "turns out less serious than we fear, banks can return the capital through buybacks and dividends once the crisis passes," he said.

Earlier this month, former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who led the central bank through the financial crisis, said that while U.S. banks are in much better shape than they were back then, he saw a case for regulators to ask banks to be cautious about paying out dividends or executing share buybacks — provided that could be done without unduly alarming investors about the financial health of the institutions.

Bloomberg News
Crisis Management Neel Kashkari Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Coronavirus
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