WASHINGTON — A Federal Reserve Board official came under pressure from senators Thursday to reveal more information about the potential effects of the European debt crisis on the U.S. banking system.
Sen. Richard Shelby, the Senate Banking Committee's top Republican, pressed Steven Kamin, the central bank's director of international finance, about what the Alabama lawmaker described as a gap between the reassuring statements offered by U.S. government officials and more worrisome data from others.
"How many of our big banks regulated by the Federal Reserve here are exposed in Europe?" Shelby asked.
Kamin responded, "I'm not in command of the specific numbers on a bank-by-bank basis."
When pressed about whether the Fed would turn such data over, Kamin said that he would have to consult with his colleagues, including Fed lawyers.
The exchange came during a hearing where U.S. officials reiterated their now-familiar message that while the potential effects of the European debt crisis remain a cause for concern, American banks have only modest direct exposures to Greece and other countries at the center of the storm.
"With regard to our banking system, direct exposures of our financial institutions to the most vulnerable Euro area program countries are quite modest," testified Lael Brainerd, the Treasury Department's under secretary for international affairs.
"As you know, banks have built thicker capital cushions and better liquidity buffers since our financial crisis, but our banking system still has material exposure to the core of Europe that could of course be impacted."
Senators also raised questions about the indirect exposure of U.S. banks to the European crisis. For example, some banks might have derivatives counterparties that are directly exposed to the most at-risk European countries.
"Do you feel that the Federal Reserve has detailed information on those types of indirect exposures, which became very critical in the 2008 crisis?" Democratic Sen. Jack Reed asked Kamin.
Kamin responded that, "We have been working and talking very closely with the banks to look at their derivative exposures, ascertain that they are within appropriate limits, and that there aren't concentrations of derivatives exposures in the system."