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  • Writer's pictureClimate Alpha

Big Banks Stress Over Fed Stress Test

The Federal Reserve board is expected to signal plans to raise interest rates in March as it focuses on fighting inflation in Washington.

The Federal Reserve’s mandate for America’s largest financial institutions to submit their plans for addressing climate risks now has a deadline: July 31. Six banks — Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo — are required by then to disclose how climate disasters such as floods, droughts, heatwaves, and other extreme weather will impact portfolios.

Banks have always stress-tested their assets to determine how financial shocks might ripple through their holdings. The Fed’s new “pilot climate scenario analysis exercise” takes this a step further with a specific climate wargaming exercise set in the northeastern United States, and a more general analysis of how the unfolding energy transition to renewables might leave their balance sheets full of stranded assets such as coal mines or natural gas plants.

The big six banks all have significant exposure to real estate securities as well as a large footprint of corporate property assets.

These disclosures address both sides of the risk coin: “physical risks” — climate risks tied directly to property, assets, and people — and “transition risks” arising from increasingly rapid decarbonization and the sunsetting of formerly lucrative fossil fuel infrastructure. The latter sends the signal that despite Chairman Jerome Powell’s insistence that “We are not, and will not be, a ‘climate policymaker,’” the Fed is serious about parsing the implications of 2021’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and last year’s Inflation Reduction Act.

“This requirement is notable for several reasons, most specifically through the inclusion of transition risk,” says Michael Ferrari, chief scientific officer and chief commercial officer of Climate Alpha. “Addressing climate-related risks requires both mitigation and adaptation. With transition risks in the conversation, we can start to have serious discussions about the adaptation measures,” he adds. Also notable is the Fed’s decision to model physical risks in a specific region prone to sea-level rise, hurricanes, and other disasters. Understanding how a singular event — such as a Category 5 hurricane landfall in lower Manhattan — might unfold in terms of immediate damage to infrastructure and real estate, followed by longer-term outward migration and declines in both economic growth and tax revenues, requires new tools combining both climate- and socio-economic variables.

“Modelling scenarios through 2050 is necessary, and mitigation measures need to increase, but these do not go far enough,” says Ferrari. “As we watch the frequency and severity of climate disruptions mount in real time, investors and regulators need new and better tools to understand consequences. This is why the adaptation requirement, which is so important, is starting to get the attention it deserves.”

As the first company of its kind to employ machine-learning techniques to combine hundreds of socioeconomic, demographic and market indicators with multiple climate scenarios, Climate Alpha stands alone in offering both the Fed and America’s biggest banks sufficiently complex forecasts of our climate-driven future.

“Climate Alpha is uniquely positioned to not only help large institutions, but all lenders, investors, risk managers, and property owners and buyers prepare for – and sensibly deploy capital under – the backdrop of future climate driven volatility,” Ferrari adds.

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