Well, so much for transparency and all that. Now it seems the Federal Reserve is telling 19 of the nation’s largest banks not to disclose how they’ve done on the Obama administration’s vaunted “stress tests” (read AP story or Bloomberg).
With earnings season and conference calls upon us, bank CEOs and CFOs might face questions from investors: Does the government think you’re going to survive – or not? Does a rigorous look by regulators show the bank is healthy, or heading back to the Bailout Window?
Mum’s the word, the Fed decrees. Only the government is allowed to disclose the outcome of the stress tests – which it is supposed to do by the end of April.
As AP tells it, the Fed is protecting weak banks against panic if executives of the healthy institutions let the cat out of the bag:
The order was the latest in a series of government moves designed to keep good news about strong banks from dooming others to a downward spiral of falling share prices and financial weakness. If banks receiving the highest marks trumpet their results, the fear is investors might push down share prices of those companies that make no such announcements.
After Wells Fargo surprised investors with good earnings on Thursday, CFO Howard Atkins declined to talk about the government’s tests. “We haven’t commented on regulatory matters and we won’t start now,” Atkins said [to Bloomberg]. “We don’t comment on the process.”
The gag rule seems a little Orwellian coming from folks who champion “transparency.” For those of us brought up on efficient markets, open disclosure and so on, it’s an ethical imperative to tell investors about material information in a timely way.
But, then, if the government is going to control the big banks, the big banks are going to be – well, controlled by the government. Sssshhhhhh!