NEW REGULATORY AUTHORITY: Gives federal regulators new authority to seize and break up large troubled financial firms without taxpayer bailouts in cases where the firm's collapse could destabilize the financial system. Sets up a liquidation procedure run by the FDIC. Treasury would supply funds to cover the
up-front costs of winding down the failed firm, but the government would have to put a "repayment plan" in place. Regulators would recoup any losses incurred from the wind-down afterwards by assessing fees on financial firms with more than $50 billion in assets.
OVERALL A GOOD PROVISION, ALTHOUGH THE ACTUAL INCIDENCE OF THESE FEES IS TRICKIER THAN THE DESCRIPTION INDICATES.
FINANCIAL STABILITY COUNCIL: Would establish a new, 10-member Financial Stability Oversight Council, comprising existing regulators charged with monitoring and addressing system-wide risks to the nation's financial stability. Among its duties, the council would recommend to the Fed stricter capital, leverage and other rules for large, complex financial firms that are judged to threaten the financial system. In extreme cases, it would have the power to break up financial firms.
I'M NOT ENTHUSIASTIC, THOUGH PERHAPS IT WILL JUST BE A WASH. NONETHELESS IT REFLECTS A BAD AND DANGEROUS ATTITUDE ABOUT WHAT REGULATORS ARE CAPABLE OF.
VOLCKER RULE: Would curb propriety trading by the largest financial firms, though banks could make de minimus investments in hedge and private-equity funds. Those investments would be limited to 3% or less of a bank's Tier 1 capital. Banks would be prohibited from bailing out a fund in which they are invested.
IT'S HARD TO TELL WHAT ACTUAL RESTRICTIONS WILL BE IN PLACE AND MOST LIKELY THERE WILL BE MAJOR LOOPHOLES. YOU DON'T HAVE TO HATE THIS PROPOSAL — RECALL THE POPULARITY OF "NARROW BANKING" PROPOSALS IN THE 1990S AS A KIND OF SECOND-BEST REFORM, CONSIDERED BY MANY MARKET-ORIENTED ECONOMISTS. FURTHERMORE IF MARKETS ARE PRETTY LIQUID, KEEPING THE BANKS OUT OF THESE MARKETS MAY NOT HARM MUCH AT ALL. STILL, I'LL PREDICT THIS DOESN'T DO ANY GOOD.
DERIVATIVES: Would for the first time extend comprehensive regulation to the over-the-counter derivatives market, including the trading of the products and the companies that sell them. Would require many routine derivatives to be traded on exchanges and routed through clearinghouses. Customized swaps could still be traded over-the-counter, but they would have to be reported to central repositories so regulators could get a broader picture of what's going on in the market. Would impose new capital, margin, reporting, record-keeping and business conduct rules on firms that deal in derivatives.
I WAS AN EARLY PROPONENT OF THIS IDEA MYSELF, BUT LATELY I'VE STARTED TO WORRY ABOUT HOW WELL CAPITALIZED THIS CLEARINGHOUSE WILL NEED TO BE. I'LL STILL COUNT IT AS A NET PLUS, BUT I DON'T THINK WE'VE THOUGHT IT THROUGH VERY WELL.
SWAPS SPIN-OFF: Would require banks to spin off only their riskiest derivatives trading operations into affiliates, in a late-night compromise struck to scale back a controversial provision championed by Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D., Ark.). Banks would be able to retain operations for interest-rate swaps, foreign-exchange swaps, and gold and silver swaps among others. Firms would be required to push trading in agriculture, uncleared commodities, most metals, and energy swaps to their affiliates.
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS. MAYBE THE AFFILIATES ARE NOT "TOO BIG TO FAIL" BUT WHAT REALLY MATTERS ARE THE COUNTERPARTIES ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TRANSACTION. WE STILL BAILED OUT LTCM, REMEMBER THAT?
CONSUMER AGENCY: Would create a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau within the Federal Reserve, with rulemaking and some enforcement power over banks and non-banks that offer consumer financial products or services such as credit cards, mortgages and other loans. The new watchdog would have authority to examine and enforce regulations for all mortgage-related businesses; banks and credit unions with assets of more than $10 billion in assets; pay day lenders, check cashers and certain other non-bank financial firms. Auto dealers won a hard-fought exemption from the Bureau's reach.
PRE-EMPTION: Would allow states to impose their own stricter consumer protection laws on national banks. National banks could seek exemption from state laws on a case-by-case, state-by-state basis if a state law "prevents or significantly interferes" with the bank's ability to do business – a higher bar than federal regulators currently must meet to pre-empt state rules. State attorneys-general would have power to enforce certain rules issued by the new consumer financial protection bureau.
THIS SHIFTS THE WORDING OF THE LAW, BUT DOES IT CHANGE THE POLITICAL EQUILIBRIUM? AGAIN, "WE;LL SEE."
FEDERAL RESERVE OVERSIGHT: Would mandate a one-time audit of all of the Fed's emergency lending programs from the financial crisis. The Fed also would disclose, with a two-year lag, details of loans it makes to banks through its discount window as well as open market transactions – activity the Fed currently doesn't disclose. Would eliminate the role of bankers in picking presidents at the Fed's 12 regional banks. Would also limit the Fed's 13(3) emergency lending authority by barring the central bank from using it to aid an
individual firm, requiring the Treasury Secretary to approve any lending program and prohibiting the participation of insolvent firms.
A MISTAKE, BUT THIS COULD HAVE BEEN MUCH WORSE.
OVERSIGHT CHANGES: Would eliminate the Office of Thrift Supervision, but after a fight, the Fed retained oversight of thousands of community banks. Would empower the Fed to supervise the largest, most complex financial companies to ensure that the government understands the risks and complexities of firms that could pose a risk to the broader economy.
OVERALL I AM PRO-FED AND SO THIS PLANK COULD HAVE BEEN MUCH WORSE, FORTUNATELY WE HAVE NOT REALLOCATED FED POWERS IN A MAJOR WAY TO LESSER REGULATORS.
BANK CAPITAL STANDARDS: Would set new size- and risk-based capital standards, including a prohibition on large bank holding companies treating trust-preferred securities as Tier 1 capital, a key measure of a bank's strength. Would grandfather trust-preferred securities for banks with less than $15 billion in assets, enabling them to continue treating the securities as Tier 1 capital. Larger banks would have five years to phase-out trust-preferred securities as Tier 1 capital.
IT'S BASEL III WHICH WILL REALLY MATTER AND WE SHOULDN'T EXPECT MUCH FROM THAT FORUM. WE'RE DROPPING THE BALL ON A MAJOR ISSUE.
BANK FEE: Would mandate the Oversight Council to impose a special assessment on the nation's largest financial firms to raise up to $19 billion to offset the cost of the bill. The fee would apply to financial institutions with more than $50 billion in assets and hedge funds with more than $10 billion in assets, with entities deemed high risk paying more than safer ones. The fee would be collected by the FDIC over five years, with the funds placed in separate fund in the Treasury and would not be usable for any other purpose for 25 years, after which any left-over funds would go to pay down the national debt.
THIS IS FOR PR, SO THE POLITICIANS CAN CLAIM TAXPAYERS WON'T BE ON THE HOOK AGAIN. RIGHT. ALSO, STUDY TAX INCIDENCE THEORY AND GET BACK TO ME.
DEPOSIT INSURANCE: Would permanently increase the level of federal deposit insurance for banks, thrifts and credit unions to $250,000, retroactive to January 1, 2008.
ALREADY DONE, SO TO SPEAK.
MORTGAGES: Would establish new national minimum underwriting standards for home mortgages. Lenders would be required for the first time to ensure that a borrower is able to repay a home loan by verifying the borrower's income, credit history and job status. Would ban payments to brokers for steering borrowers to high-priced loans.
DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS.
SECURITIZATION: Banks that package loans would, broadly, be required to keep 5% of the credit risk on their balance sheets. Would direct bank regulators to exempt from the rules a class of low-risk mortgages that meet certain minimum standards. Regulators could permit alternative risk-retention arrangements for
the commercial mortgage-backed securities market.
WASTE OF TIME. YOU CAN JUST AS EASILY ARGUE THE PROBLEM WAS INSUFFICIENT SECURITIZATION. AND HOW HAVE SIMILAR RULES WORKED OUT FOR THE SPANISH?
CREDIT RATING AGENCIES: Would revamp the credit-rating industry, establishing a new quasi-government entity designed to address conflicts of interest inherent in the credit-rating business after the SEC studies the matter. Would also allow investors to sue credit-rating firms for a "knowing or reckless" failure to conduct a reasonable investigation, a lower liability standard than the firms were lobbying to get. Would establish a new oversight office within the SEC with the ability to fine ratings agencies and empowers the SEC to
deregister a firm that gives too many bad ratings over time.
THE BEST EQUILIBRIUM IS TO HAVE DISCREDITED RATINGS AGENCIES, NOT REVAMPED AND REREGULATED AGENCIES.
INVESTMENT ADVICE: Would give the SEC the authority to raise standards for broker dealers who give investment advice after the agency studies the issue. Would permit, but not require, the SEC to hold broker dealers to a fiduciary duty similar to the standard to which investment advisers are held.
COULD EASILY END UP MEANING NOTHING.
CORPORATE GOVERNANCE: Would give shareholders of public corporations a non-binding vote on executive pay and "golden parachutes," and would give the SEC the authority to grant shareholders proxy access to nominate directors.
COULD EASILY END UP MEANING NOTHING.
HEDGE FUNDS: Would require hedge funds and private equity funds to register with the SEC as investment advisers and to provide information on trades to help regulators monitor systemic risk.
COULD EASILY END UP MEANING NOTHING.
INSURANCE: Would create a new Federal Insurance Office within the Treasury Department to monitor the insurance industry, recommending to the systemic risk council insurers that should be treated as systemically important. Would require the new office to report to Congress on ways to modernize insurance
I AGREE WE SHOULD NOT TRUST STATE-LEVEL REGULATORS WITH FIRMS SUCH AS AIG, BUT LET'S HAVE MODEST EXPECTATIONS ABOUT WHAT THIS OFFICE WILL ACHIEVE. IT PROBABLY WOULDN'T HAVE STOPPED THE AIG DEBACLE EITHER.
-By Victoria McGrane, Dow Jones Newswires
THE BOTTOM LINE: THE GOOD PARTS OF THE BILL AREN'T NEARLY AS GOOD AS THEY SHOULD BE, AND THE BAD PARTS BECAME MUCH BETTER WITH TIME. THE BIGGEST OMISSIONS ARE SIMPLE AND TOUGHER RESTRICTIONS ON LEVERAGE AND REFORM OF THE MORTGAGE AGENCIES. OVERALL CONSIDER THIS A VICTORY FOR THE STATUS QUO AND YOU SHOULD REALIZE THAT THE UNDERLYING PROBLEMS HAVE NOT BEEN SOLVED.