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Large Bank Holding Companies: Expectations of Government Support

GAO-14-809T Published: Jul 31, 2014. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 2014.
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What GAO Found

While views varied among market participants with whom GAO spoke, many believed that recent regulatory reforms have reduced but not eliminated the likelihood the federal government would prevent the failure of one of the largest bank holding companies. Recent reforms provide regulators with new authority to resolve a large failing bank holding company in an orderly process and require the largest bank holding companies to meet stricter capital and other standards, increasing costs and reducing risks for these firms. In response to reforms, two of three major rating agencies reduced or removed the assumed government support they incorporated into some large bank holding companies’ overall credit ratings. Credit rating agencies and large investors cited the new Orderly Liquidation Authority as a key factor influencing their views. While several large investors viewed the resolution process as credible, others cited potential challenges, such as the risk that multiple failures of large firms could destabilize markets. Remaining market expectations of government support can benefit large bank holding companies if they affect investors’ and customers’ decisions.
GAO analyzed the relationship between a bank holding company’s size and its funding costs, taking into account a broad set of other factors that can influence funding costs. To inform this analysis and to understand the breadth of methodological approaches and results, GAO reviewed selected studies that estimated funding cost differences between large and small financial institutions that could be associated with the perception that some institutions are too big to fail. Studies GAO reviewed generally found that the largest financial institutions had lower funding costs during the 2007-2009 financial crisis but that the difference between the funding costs of the largest and smaller institutions has since declined. However, these empirical analyses contain a number of limitations that could reduce their validity or applicability to U.S. bank holding companies. For example, some studies used credit ratings which provide only an indirect measure of funding costs.
GAO’s analysis, which addresses some limitations of these studies, suggests that large bank holding companies had lower funding costs than smaller ones during the financial crisis but provides mixed evidence of such advantages in recent years. However, most models suggest that such advantages may have declined or reversed. GAO developed a series of statistical models that estimate the relationship between bank holding companies’ bond funding costs and their size or systemic importance, controlling for other drivers of bond funding costs, such as bank holding company credit risk. Key features of GAO’s approach include the following:
• U.S. Bank Holding Companies: The models focused on U.S. bank holding companies to better understand the relationship between funding costs and size in the context of the U.S. economic and regulatory environment.
• Bond Funding Costs: The models used bond yield spreads—the difference between the yield or rate of return on a bond and the yield on a Treasury bond of comparable maturity—to measure funding costs because they are a risk-sensitive measure of what investors charge bank holding companies to borrow.

Why GAO Did This Study

This testimony summarizes the information contained in GAO's Month Year report, entitled Large Bank Holding Companies: Expectations of Government Support, GAO-14-621.

For more information, contact Lawrance Evans, Jr. at (202) 512-4802, or

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Bank failuresBank holding companiesBanking regulationConsumer protectionCost analysisCritical time interventionEconometric modelingEconomic stabilizationFederal regulationsFinancial institutionsLending institutionsRisk management