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Bailout for Breakfast: Who's Stressin?

ProPublica"Banks Need at Least $65 Billion in Capital," announces the Wall Street Journal. That sounds pretty dire, but the markets are buoyed by the results. The banks appear healthier than had been feared. Optimism is high that the banks will be able to fill the gap by raising the money privately or else converting the government's preferred shares (which operate like bonds) to common stock. If neither of those comes to pass, the government could still step in with new capital, but expectations are those wouldn't be anything compared to the massive bailouts of last fall. "The big bailouts for the banks may be over," pronounces the New York Times.

Indeed, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's imagination already seems to be running over with ways to use the remaining bailout cash, now that it no longer seems destined for the big banks. In a Times op-ed today, he indicates that the way has been cleared for some of the biggest banks to begin returning their TARP money. Treasury's estimate that about $25 billion would be coming back this year now seems too low, he says. "This will free up resources to help support community banks, encourage small-business lending and help repair and restart the securities markets."

So is it a new day? Well, after the results are revealed today at 5 PM EST (stay tuned as our list of the 19 banks will be updated to reflect those results), the stress test process will play itself out over the next six months. The banks told that they have to raise additional capital have until June 8 to present a plan to Treasury for how they're going to do it. And then they have until November 9 to do it. If things don't go according to plan, the government will be there with its billions to catch a bank that falls. So, well, we'll see.

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