Government stress tests of how 19 major banks would endure a sharp downturn in the economy already appear to be helping banks gain access to private capital, a key element in economic recovery, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said on Monday.

The initial indications are encouraging, he said in text prepared for delivery to a conference organized by the Atlanta Fed.

Many of the banks are well ahead in finding private-sector options for increasing their common equity, and several have announced plans for new equity issues, he said.

(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal and Alister Bull; Editing by Leslie Adler)