A number of major US banks on Wednesday returned emergency loans of more than $68 billion that they had received from the government at the height of the financial crisis in October.
The paybacks have been viewed as a sign that Wall Street is beginning to stabilize after the worst financial turmoil since the Great Depression. Ten major banks were given the go-ahead last week by President Barack Obama's administration to return the funds.
But the optimism didn't last long: Standard & Poor's later Wednesday lowered the credit ratings of 22 US banks, including three banks that paid back the government funds.
Most banking shares also fell in New York trading after President Barack Obama laid out a sweeping overhaul of the government's regulatory system, promising to stretch oversight into all corners of Wall Street and beef up the scrutiny of major financial firms.
JPMorgan Chase returned the most money: $25 billion. The other repayments were from Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, BB&T Corp, US Bancorp, American Express, State Street, Northern Trust, Bank of New York Mellon Corp and Capital One Financial.
They are the first major banks to return government loans. Dozens of smaller community banks and lenders have already handed back nearly $2 billion over the last few months.
That would still leave the government with bail-outs of more than $500 billion on the books as it seeks to pull the financial sector out of its worst crisis since the Great Depression.
The bail-outs include massive investments in American International Group, Citigroup, Bank of America and carmaker General Motors.
Standard & Poor's warned that Wall Street was still undergoing serious restructuring and that conditions "will become less favourable" for banks as a result of the financial crisis.
"We believe the banking industry is undergoing a structural transformation that may include radical changes with permanent repercussions," said Standard & Poor's credit analyst Rodrigo Quintanilla in a statement. "Such a transition period justifies lower ratings as industry players implement changes."