Buoyed by positive employment data for the month of February released this morning, stocks opened significantly higher this morning, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) looked poised to set yet another nominal closing high. However, the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) and the narrower, price-weighted Dow have since fallen back to just above breakeven, up 0.1% and 0.15%, respectively, as of 10:05 a.m. EST.

Banks are OK
The results of the Fed's third annual round of bank stress tests are in and -- drum roll -- banks passed! (All but Ally Financial, that is.) Were you expecting anything different? Here's how the stress test works: The Fed comes up with a hellfire ("severely adverse") scenario for the economy, and financial markets and banks tot up their expected losses and their capital position under that scenario. The object is to verify whether bank balance sheets can withstand a brutal macroeconomic shock, which, in this case, included:

  • A peak unemployment rate of 12.1% -- roughly 50% higher than it is today and 1.4 percentage points higher than the highest rate achieved since 1948.

  • A greater-than-50% decline in stock prices.

  • A 20% decline in housing prices.

Note that the two remaining pure-play investment banks, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), came in with the lowest stress-scenario capital ratios, barely above the aggregate Tier 1 common equity ratio of 5.6% for the 18 firms at the end of 2008 -- just prior to the first round of stress tests in early 2009, which prompted massive raises. The minimum required ratio is 5%. Goldman's forecast losses under the stress test scenario are $20 billion, above analyst expectations. These results are putting pressure on investment bank shares.

Meanwhile, with respective stress-scenario Tier 1 common equity ratios of 6.8% and 8.3%, Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) and Citigroup (NYSE:C) look in a more comfortable position. For shareholders, that means the prospect of return of capital via dividend increases or share repurchases. Indeed, Citi announced a $1.2 billion buyback over the next 12 months -- its biggest return of capital since 2006 -- giving the shares a healthy boost this morning. Investors are cheering the news, boosting Citi shares by 1.2%. No word from B of A, whose shares, down 1.6%, are paying the price for this silence.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.