Commentaries

Now raising intellectual capital

Is BlackRock going to rule the world?

It’s amazing how well the company has positioned itself to clean up the mess left behind by the financial crisis. It already has chummy ties with the government, including the Federal Reserve which tapped it to manage and eventually liquidate toxic assets the central bank took on from AIG. It’s also the risk and analytics manager in chief for the Fed’s MBS purchasing program.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that the National Association of Insurance Commissioners is also considering the giant money manager to sub for the rating agencies, which the insurance industry blames for getting insurers into such a pickle with structured finance investments.

BlackRock Inc., which scored multiple government assignments during the financial crisis, is a contender for another prestigious gig: helping state regulators size up risks in insurers’ investments.

The money manager and risk-advisory outfit is among a handful of firms that have talked with officials from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners lately about possibly taking on a slice of work now done by the major ratings firms, according to regulators and an official at the NAIC.

Calling all HFT victims

Now that the SEC has rebuffed my request to gather information about investor complaints about high-frequency trading, I’m calling on you for help.

If you have sent a complaint in the past year complaining about HFT and the impact it is having on particular stocks, or the broader market, I’d like to hear from you. You can reach me by email: matthew.goldstein@thomsonreuters.com

Madoff verdict: The SEC is plain incompetent

A lengthy report examining the many ways the Securities and Exchange Commission botched its investigations of Bernie Madoff tells us something we already knew: the SEC can be awfully incompetent.

The report by the SEC Inspector General quickly dispenses with the notion that regulators either protected Madoff or covered-up their investigatory failures. But that’s the best that can be said for the SEC in this massive undertaking.

Turner is right to take on swollen banks

So the watchdog can bark after all. Adair Turner, chairman of Britain’s Financial Services Authority, says the financial sector has “swollen beyond its socially useful size”. That is a striking statement for any financial regulator, particularly one that counts promoting London’s financial centre as one of its goals. Identifying the problem, however, is the easy bit. Reversing decades of financial expansion will require global agreement on tough new rules, and the determination to make sure they are consistently enforced.

Turner’s comments, in a debate hosted by Prospect magazine, underscore the extent to which the crisis has upended the received wisdom among policymakers. For years they assumed markets were self-correcting, that financial innovation brought lasting economic benefits, and that regulators should think twice before getting in the way.

Investor protection, Singapore style

Who needs a whole new government agency to protect  consumers from irresponsible banks? Authorities in Singapore have taken a refreshingly straightforward approach in tackling banks deemed to have been less than scrupulous when selling structured notes dragged down by the failure of Lehman Brothers: they banned them.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore on Wednesday banned 10 banks from selling structured notes until they can prove that they have improved processes to highlight the risks involved. Banks including DBS and ABN Amro, now part of Britain’s Royal Bank of Scotland, are out of the business for at least six months. Hong Leong Finance receivd a two-year ban. (The full list is here.)

Who is the Fed accountable to?

It’s pretty clear the Federal Reserve is going to emerge as the big winner in the Obama administration’s proposed overhaul of the financial regulatory system. But any grant of new powers to the Fed must come with legislation requiring greater accountabilty from the nation’s central banker.

Now this is not meant to knock the job the Fed has done in the current financial crisis.  In many respects, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke should be applauded for showing a willingness to improvise and come up  with creative solutions for trying to limit the damage to the banking system and the economy. But throughout the crisis, Benanke &  Co. have shown an utter disdain for transparency and full disclosure.

Regulators are opaque, too

Photo

Matthew GoldsteinSo much for more transparency in the financial system.

It’s hard for regulators to demand greater transparency from Wall Street banks when they can’t even live up to their own standard of greater disclosure. A case in point is the Treasury Department’s press release touting its decision to permit “10 of the largest U.S. financial institutions” to begin repaying $68 billion in federal bailout money. The only trouble is Treasury doesn’t name any of the banks that can begin repaying money to the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Treasury, it appears, has left it up to each of the “10 of the largest U.S. financial institutions” to make their own announcements about their intentions to repay the TARP. And some, like Morgan Stanley, didn’t waste anytime putting out a PR trumpeting its plan to repay $10 billion in TARP money.

  •