financial regulation

Volcker Rule Gets Poor Marks Out of the Box

What is the Volcker rule?  The headlines in the press describe a nebulously defined financial regulation as being the second coming of financial reform  Yet the only thing clear about the Volcker rule is who it is named after, former Federal Reserve chair Paul Volcker.  The Volcker rule was a last minute financial regulation rule in an attempt to stop speculative trading by Wall Street.  It has been politicized, lobbied against, delayed, watered down and modified heavily.

How to Fix Too Big Too Fail

tbtfminnfedlogo Meet Roberta Karmel, an unassuming law professor. Meet Professor Karmel's answer to finally break up the big banks.

Another financial crisis, a prolonged recession, or changing political ideologies could cause a re-examination of the status quo and lead to a decision to break up the big banks. If that should happen, policy makers could well take another look at the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 as a model for accomplishing such a breakup over a limited time span of, say, seven years. The political mood is already shifting. The 1980s mantras -- government regulation as problematic, free-market competition as an unquestioned good, financial engineering as worthwhile innovation and finance as more important than commercial and industrial enterprise -- are now being reconsidered. This could lead to a more responsible balance between government, finance and industry. Dodd-Frank, despite its length and complexity, is only the beginning of real regulatory reform. It's a continuation of the complexity of already overly complex financial and regulatory systems. What we need is a simple regulatory scheme to create a simpler banking system.

Oh Those Burdensome Rules

Here come the Banksters. It was not enough that so called financial reform is Swiss Cheese legislation, full of loopholes. What regulation is left, the banks are going after and seemingly with help from the Government.

Who is their biggest cheerleader? Why, Federal Reserve Chair, Ben Bernanke. From a regulation speech in Chicago:

No one’s interests are served by the imposition of ineffective or burdensome rules that lead to excessive increases in costs or unnecessary restrictions in the supply of credit. Regulators must aim to avoid stifling reasonable risk-taking and innovation in financial markets, as these factors play an important role in fostering broader productivity gains, economic growth, and job creation.

According to Reuters, Goldman Sachs is having a freak out over the Swiss Cheese Financial Reform bill.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) has just a few more months to put its stamp on the Volcker rule, and it is not wasting any time.

When laws are for breaking

A relatively obscure case in Norway shows just how different the United States is from the rest of the industrialized world.
The Oslo Stock Exchange was halted by unusual trade action. It seems two Norwegians were trying to manipulate stock prices.

We believe the two are behind a number of cases of price manipulation. They have set purchase and sales orders that have not been real, because they have had another motive, namely to move prices, "said Stenberg.

In other words, they did exactly what every single bank on Wall Street does every single day. In New York it is called High Frequency Trading. In Oslo it is called getting six years of jail time for breaking the law.

So who is right? Is Norway some Socialist Hell for not allowing the free market to work, allowing faster traders to skim profits from slower traders? Or are laws in the United States too lax, allowing people to take money from the system without adding any value, thus destabilizing the economy?

To answer that we need to look at a couple more examples.

Financial Reform D.O.A. Redux

The Financial Reform Bill is now officially a joke. D.O.A. After the worst financial meltdown and still no jobs in the aftermath, we get...lobbyists getting their way in Congress.

The Lincoln derivatives amendment was weakened and watered down. Banks now can keep most of their derivatives. They do not have to spin off 92% of them to affiliate companies.

Under the agreement, reached late Thursday, banks would continue to be allowed to deal interest rate and foreign exchange swaps, "credit derivatives referencing investment-grade entities that are cleared," derivatives referencing gold and silver, and the firms would be allowed to hedge "for the banks' own risk."

Banks would be forced to push out to their affiliates derivatives referencing "cleared and uncleared commodities, energies and metals (with the exception of gold and silver), agriculture, credit derivatives referencing non-investment grade entities and all equities, and any uncleared credit default swaps," Peterson said.

"Frankly, the biggest part of all these derivatives, by far, are the ones that I named that are going to be able to stay in the bank," Peterson added. "Interest rate and foreign exchange are by far the greatest part of the amount of business that's involved here."

From Bloomberg:

Coated in the Black Tar of Darkness. a War Against Financial Reform Continues

As weak as Financial Reform bills are in the House and Senate, that's not good enough for some. The White House and Legislators want it weaker and are working under the cover of oil disaster to make it so.

UPI is reporting the conference committee has killed derivatives reform. Blanche Lincoln is the one who killed her own amendment, according to the Wall Street Journal. I guess she won her primary so it's back to business as usual.

The latest version would not force banks to spin off their swap desks, but would cordon off the derivatives operations by giving big banks two years to form affiliates to handle the derivatives bets, which are private contracts that hedge against future price changes in various securities.

Unless I'm missing something that is no change at all. SIVs are affiliates, little shell corporations, usually incorporated in the Caymans to hold CDOs and CDSes or other securities. Is there any difference between a Structured Investment Vehicle and this newly coined phrase affiliate? Looks like a duck.....

What Next on Financial Reform?

Since the Financial Reform bill passed the Senate, it will now go to conference committee to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions. The New York Times has a graphic on the two bills, describing some of the differences and what is not in either version of the legislation, spreadsheet style.

Currently we do not know who the conferees are. They will be determined on Monday. Senator Kaufman:

The final Wall Street reform bill can't drift too far from the version passed Thursday night by the Senate, Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) warned Friday.

While there is no certainty in how conferees from the House and Senate might address differences between their two bills, Kaufman said, substantial changes could endanger the 60-vote majority needed to pass the bill in the upper chamber.

"There isn't a lot of wiggle room in the conference, in terms of changing what's in the Senate bill," Kaufman said Friday morning on CNBC.

Paul Volcker Said What?

The House Financial Services Committee held a hearing today, Experts’ Perspectives on Systemic Risk and Resolution Issues. Paul Volcker testified. Here is his written testimony.

Volcker calls for the separation of banking from commerce and also calls for reforms in executive pay. He also calls for regulation of hedge funds and private equity firms. Volcker also implies that by saving the Zombie banks, the U.S. in fact has encouraged even worse risk taking and highlights these very questions so often written about on this site: