The stress test and America's 3 most stressed banks

Peter Cohan

With Treasury imposing so-called stress tests on America's top 20 banks, there is no doubt in my mind that short sellers have long ago pounced on their shares and will profit from their decline. What is the stress test? How will Treasury decide who will pass and who will fail? Which banks are likely to fail? And what will happen to those banks?

The stress test has yet to be defined precisely. In general, it will help regulators estimate what will happen to banks' capital if general economic conditions deteriorate further. For those banks which appear unlikely to survive the stress test with their current capital, the government will urge them to raise private capital. And if they can't do that, the government will decide how much and what form its additional capital injections might take.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out which three banks are most likely to fail that test (which is a good thing because I am not one). The stock market is already giving you the answer -- just look at the banks with the lowest stock prices that have taken TARP money. This leads you to these three banks: