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Bank 'living wills' light on information, but reveal problems: U.S. monitor

People stand next to windows above an exterior sign at the Lehman Brothers headquarters in New York in this September 16, 2008 file photo. September 14, 2009 marks the one year anniversary of the bankruptcy filing of Lehman Brothers. Picture taken September 16, 2008. REUTERS/Chip East/Files (UNITED STATES BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT ANNIVERSARY) - RTR27S6Z

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - There is not enough information in the public section of the "living wills" major banks file with U.S. regulators to fully explain how the organizations could undergo bankruptcy without taxpayer aid, the country's financial monitor said on Wednesday.

Even with the limited information, the Office of Financial Research found that banks "remain complex organizations," which it said confirms the "recent rejection and criticism by regulators of living will submissions."

Last month, federal regulators gave failing grades to five out of the eight biggest banks for their plans for winding down operations during a financial emergency without federal bailouts.

The requirement for a living will was part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform legislation passed following the 2007-2009 financial crisis, when the U.S. government spent billions of dollars to keep banks considered "too big to fail" from collapsing and wrecking the U.S. economy.

Companies are required to detail assets and liabilities for all their core business lines in a confidential section provided only to the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, but have "broad discretion in preparing the public section," said the OFR, also created by Dodd-Frank.

That leads to information gaps that can make it hard for other agencies and the public to evaluate banks' cross-border activities or parent company balance sheets, it said.

This is not the first time the living wills process has been criticized for a lack of information. In April the Government Accountability Office found the public portions of living wills lacking and also said banks needed to know more about how regulators evaluate their plans.

Analyzing the public parts of the wills, the OFR found that banks generally have not "simplified their organizations to make themselves easier to resolve" and that the interconnections between subsidiaries of the banks are "likely to present greater challenges to orderly resolution."

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)