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Business Analysis & Features

Can assessments in Europe repeat the success of those in America?

Europe's chancelleries are clearly hoping that the stress test will result in the same cathartic effect on markets as their US equivalents did in May last year. The turbulence that sparked European banking supervisors into action is worrying everyone.

The American tests saw 10 of the country's biggest 19 banks falling flat on their faces. The 10 were told they needed to find an extra $74.6bn (£48bn) with which to cushion themselves, close to half of which ($33.9bn) was needed by just one lender – Bank of America.

If it looked bad the response was rapid: banks that required extra capital were given just a month to finalise plans to raise it and to get their proposals approved by the regulators.

Many had already begun the work. Bank of America said it would raise the $33.9bn through the sale of assets and other measures, while Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo said they would issue or exchange shares.

Whether that will happen in Europe is open to some debate. It is also worth noting that the US tests were significantly tougher than their European equivalents. The criteria were broadly similar in that both looked at the impact on banks of GDP coming in at about 3 per cent less than the prevailing forecasts.

The US tests did not cover the effect of a possible sovereign debt crisis. But when the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve carried them out, the world's economy was significantly weaker than it is today, while the forward projections on which the studies were based were far darker.

The US Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, said at the time that he hoped "that banks are going to be able to get back to the business of banking" after their completion. He more or less got his wish. Europe may not be quite so lucky.