WASHINGTON — Federal regulators took a step Tuesday toward making eight of the largest U.S. banks meet a stricter measure of health to reduce the threat they pose to the financial system.
The Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency proposed that those banks increase their ratio of equity to loans and other assets from 3 percent to 5 percent. In addition, the banks' deposit-holding subsidiaries would have to increase that ratio to 6 percent.
If adopted, the rule would take effect in 2018. It would apply to U.S. banks considered so big and interconnected that each could threaten the global financial system: Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, Bank of New York Mellon and State Street Bank.
Hundreds of U.S. banks received federal bailouts during the financial crisis that struck in 2008 and triggered the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The list included the nation's largest financial firms, including all eight banks that will be subject to the rule proposed Tuesday.
Regulators said the rule was intended to minimize the need for future bank bailouts. It was mandated by Congress in the 2010 financial overhaul, which was drafted in response to the crisis.
The rule would help create "a stronger, more resilient industry, better able to withstand environments of stress in the future," FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg said before the FDIC board voted 5-0 to propose the rule and put it out for public comment 90 days. A final vote will be taken some time after that, possibly with changes.
The rule was written jointly with the Fed and the Comptroller's Office, a Treasury Department agency.
The deposits held by the banks' subsidiaries are insured by the government. So the subsidiaries are subject to a stricter ratio requirement. Equity includes money banks receive when they issue stock, as well as profits they have retained.
The agencies estimate that the banks' parent companies would have needed to increase their capital a total of about $63 billion to meet the requirement, if it had been in place in September. The deposit-taking subsidiaries would have needed an additional total of $89 billion, according to the estimates.
Nearly all eight banks will meet the 5 percent equity requirement by 2017, the regulators said.
The rule was the first of four mentioned last week by Daniel Tarullo, a Fed governor, targeting the eight large banks.
Tarullo said the goal is to build buffers strong enough to withstand financial stress and avoid another crisis in which taxpayers would have to bail them out. Many critics worry that the largest banks still represent a danger to the financial system.
Two members of the Senate Banking Committee, Democrat Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Louisiana Republican David Vitter, called the regulators' action Tuesday "a major step in the right direction of higher capital standards."
Brown and Vitter have proposed legislation that would, among other things, impose even stricter capital requirements on the largest banks.
The regulators' move follows action the Fed took last week to increase the capital all large banks must hold as a cushion against risk. The FDIC and the Comptroller's Office adopted that rule Tuesday. It would require the banks to maintain high-quality capital equal to 4.5 percent of their loans and other assets.
The banking industry has been steadily recovering since the crisis. Overall profits have been rising, and banks have begun lending more freely.
Banks have lobbied to ease the requirements for higher capital, which they say could hamper their ability to lend. Experts say most big banks have already increased their capital reserves.
The American Bankers Association, the industry's biggest lobbying group, said in a statement Tuesday that capital levels of U.S. banks are currently near historic highs.
"Doubling the capital requirements adds little protection, and may adversely affect the level and cost of credit that's so vital to continued economic expansion," Frank Keating, the group's president and CEO, said in a statement.