Grade Inflation

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Steve Gandel at Time thinks Citigroup should have failed its stress test:

When the results of the government’s financial stress tests were announced last week, Citigroup seemed to have dodged a bullet. The bank, long thought to be in the worst shape among the nation’s largest lenders, was said to need just $5.5 billion in capital in order to return to health. No small sum, to be sure. But amazingly, what Citi was required to raise was less than half the $13.7 billion that competitor Wells Fargo was told to come up with. And far less than the nearly $34 billion that regulators said Bank of America needed to bolster its capital by in the next six months.

Dig a little deeper, though, and Citi’s stress-test results look more like an F than the B+ the bank seemed to get. Among the 19 banks the government probed, Citi was found to have the lowest common capital ratio, which the government said was a key measure to protect against insolvency. What’s more, Citi also got credit for a capital conversion it has yet to complete. Strip that out, and the amount of capital Citi needs balloons to nearly $63 billion, more than any of the other banks tested.

Such fudging of the numbers shouldn’t surprise. After the Federal Reserve’s commitment of up to $220 billion, Treasury’s $50 billion, and the FDIC’s $10 billion, is a $58 billion difference in the numbers that big of a deal, especially between such close friends as Geithner and Citigroup?

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