WASHINGTON — Regulators appear to have made the right call in failing most of the largest banks' living wills, but it's hard to tell given the dearth of publicly available information, a new government report suggests.
The "limited data" from public filings, the Office of Financial Research said in a report released Wednesday, "appear to confirm some concerns of regulators."
But the OFR, an independent branch of the Treasury Department created under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, seemed just as critical of the level of transparency in the living wills process as it was of the banks who had failed to make themselves more resolvable.
The report agreed with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Federal Reserve's findings that most banks were not prepared for resolution without government assistance. In April, the agencies found the bankruptcy plans of five out of eight systemically important banks — including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo — not credible. They disagreed on two banks — Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs — while Citigroup was approved by both.
The research office based its own analysis mainly on the structure of the banks, concluding that "the largest U.S. bank holding companies have not reduced either their complexity or their interconnectedness." Out of eight banks, the report found, only one — Citigroup — had reduced its number of core businesses from 2013 to 2014.
"However," the OFR found, "the public filings do not provide enough information to evaluate companies' cross-border activities or parent company balance sheets."
The report noted that resolving international obstacles will be key to planning the bankruptcy of systemically important financial institutions.
"Conflicting legal frameworks across countries may present the greatest challenge to orderly resolution of global banks," the OFR said.
Overall, the OFR found its research greatly limited by the lack of transparency in banks' public resolution plans and suggested standardizing certain types of information to "facilitate comparisons among banks and across time."
"The public portions of living wills should help the public assess the process for managing the failure of the largest U.S. banks," the office concluded. "The analysis in this brief suggests that they do not yet serve that purpose because the data they contain are limited."