950 shades of grey
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The latest apparent victim of the London Whale has a slightly less memorable name: portfolio hedging. The WSJ reports that the final version of the Volcker Rule won’t contain language allowing the practice of hedging broad portfolios of assets against economic shifts. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says the “rule prohibits risky trading bets like the ‘London Whale’ that are masked as risk-mitigating hedges”.
The Volcker Rule is tantalizingly close to finalization, clocking in at some 950 pages, after a more than three-year drafting process, but how it will be implemented is an open question. At the five largest Wall Street banks, the rule could threaten business units that accounted for $58 billion in revenue over the last twelve months. That’s 18% of their collective revenue, Bloomberg writes.
Still, Guggenheim Securities’ Jaret Seiberg thinks regulators are intentionally overstating the actual strength of the rule. “The vast majority of banks” will be exempt from having to demonstrate compliance with the portfolio hedging portion of the rule, says Seiberg.
KBW’s Brian Gardner and Fred Canno fear enforcement of the rule might end up being more important than the text itself: “A broad definition of prop trading (with narrow exemptions) that is aggressively enforced could be the worst outcome for the largest banks”.
Matt Levine points out that removing a phrase is not the same as prohibiting a practice. Given the current language of the rule, portfolio hedging by another name may be permitted:
Eliminating the words “portfolio hedging” is not the same as eliminating portfolio hedging. The rule allows hedges “designed to reduce or otherwise significantly mitigate … one or more identifiable risks,” as long as they don’t create “any significant new or additional risk that is not itself hedged contemporaneously.” So it is not entirely clear to me from that that the rule forbids “portfolio hedging”.
– Ben Walsh
Best And Brightest
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