Though the stress tests could be dismissed as little more than political theater, even the harshest critics concede they accomplished something important: breathing room.

"The strategy of procrastination worked," said Kip Weissman, a partner at Luse Gorman Pomerenk & Schick PC. "The Obama administration was playing for time, hoping things would get better. … That seems to be what is happening. … Banks have a lot more options than they did 60 days ago."

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