Wells Fargo & Co. and Citigroup Inc. both repaid their government aid as expected, escaping heightened regulatory and public scrutiny.
Wells Fargo said it completed its $25 billion repayment and Citi said it repaid $20 billion and tore up guarantees it received from the U.S. government for losses stemming from securities tied to soured mortgages.
Both banks were forced to raise capital that diluted shareholders' equity to exit the Troubled Asset Relief Program, but the restrictions that came with the aid and the distraction to management that resulted from holding the funds drove the banks to repay.
With the actions by Wells Fargo and Citi, the nation's four largest banks have returned their aid packages, as have several large regional banks. The largest banks that haven't yet repaid their Tarp funds are PNC Financial Services Group Inc. and SunTrust Banks Inc.
The rush to repay signals that banks once more have access to private capital. It also reflects bankers' resistance to government influence, which restricted executive pay and, some said, prevented banks from operating freely.
Bank of America Corp. surprised investors by announcing plans to repay $45 billion in Tarp aid earlier this month. Citi had been eager to return its Tarp funds, but wrestled with regulators about the terms. It announced its repayment plans on Dec. 14, the same day as Wells Fargo.
Tarp was introduced in the autumn of 2008 when the financial crisis put the economy at risk of falling into a depression. While some big bankers initially demurred about receiving the aid, the Treasury Department left little doubt that taking the money was necessary to stabilize the banking industry.
Some banks still need the capital, and are having trouble just paying the dividends on their aid. According to the Treasury Department, 55 banks that received Tarp were unable to pay the most recent monthly dividend on the government's preferred stock, the largest being CIT Group Inc., which recently emerged from bankruptcy.
J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley, Capital One Financial Corp. and BB&T Corp. were among the first to repay earlier this year.
Some bankers said that regulators' demands for ever-higher capital levels, exacerbated by Tarp, hampered lending by tying up money. Overall, Tarp, and months of negotiating repayment terms, proved a distraction for management.
Wells Fargo raised $12.25 billion in a common-stock offering. It has been vulnerable to the financial crisis because of its large portfolio of adjustable-rate mortgages from its acquisition of Wachovia Corp.
"With repayment of the Tarp investment, we can intensify our focus on what we do best: helping consumers and businesses achieve financial success," Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf said in a press release.
He also said that Wells Fargo "supplied more than $640 billion in credit to consumers and businesses" and "helped more than 400,000 households preserve their home ownership" since, as he put it, Wells Fargo "accepted" Tarp funds.
"We thank the U.S. government and taxpayers for their support of our financial system," Mr. Stumpf said.
CEO Vikram Pandit had said, "We owe the American taxpayers a debt of gratitude."
Citi raised $20.5 billion to repay Tarp and end the loss-sharing program. The government continues to hold $5.3 billion in trust preferred securities and 28% of Citi's common stock, which the Treasury said it intends to sell in 2010.