Fed says it should keep consumer protection role

July 16, 2009

A man walks in front of the U.S. Federal Reserve building in Washington   By Tim Ahmann
   WASHINGTON, July 16 (Reuters) – The Federal Reserve on Thursday pushed back against a White House plan to give some of its consumer protection powers to a new agency, arguing there was a “compelling case” for the central bank to keep them. 
   “The Federal Reserve has the resources, the structure and the experience to execute an ongoing comprehensive program for effective consumer protection in financial services,” Fed Governor Elizabeth Duke said in testimony prepared for delivery at a congressional hearing.
   As part of a broad proposal to revamp the U.S. financial regulatory system in the wake of the financial crisis, the Obama administration has called for the creation of a new agency to oversee the safety of financial products, authority that currently resides with the Fed and other regulators.
   The U.S. central bank has faced a firestorm of criticism for failing to do more to prevent the aggressive mortgage lending practices that helped fuel a U.S. housing boom and are now fueling a record surge in foreclosures.
   In the first six months of this year, U.S. foreclosure filings jumped to a record 1.9 million on more than 1.5 million properties, RealtyTrac said on Thursday. [ID:nN15368203]
  Oliver Ireland, a former Fed official and now a partner at Morrison & Foerster LLP, said at a separate hearing that when he was at the central bank, the Fed paid “insufficient attention” to consumer protection under a law that gave it authority to restrict some mortgage lending practices.
   “Regulators were behind the curve on a number of consumer issues, particularly the mortgage issue,” he said. Nonetheless, he said a new agency was not the best route forward.
   In her testimony to a House Financial Services subcommittee, Duke said it would be “enormously challenging” to replicate the Fed’s “deep expertise” in a new agency and that Congress would be better served by finding ways to strengthen the Fed’s consumer-protection program.
   She said lawmakers could codify consumer protection as one of the Fed’s core missions and require periodic reports from the central bank on consumer protection issues, much in the way the Fed has to deliver semiannual reports on monetary policy.
   Duke also said the Fed plans to begin conducting periodic “sufficiency reviews” to consider whether existing regulations are adequate, and would include public hearings to gather information as part of that process.
   She argued that the Fed’s consumer protection function helped it to better safeguard the financial system and economy by providing a good lens into consumer borrowing behavior.
   Duke said the central bank had done a good job protecting consumers, particularly in recent years, and detailed numerous consumer-related steps it has and is planning to take.
   She noted that the Fed plans to issue next week a proposed regulation that would require new consumer disclosures and change rules for some mortgages and home equity lines of credit, and said that proposal could also address how mortgage originators are compensated.
   So-called “yield spread premiums” that increase compensation for mortgage brokers who steer borrowers into higher interest rate loans is one of the practices analysts blame for saddling homeowners with mortgages they cannot afford. (Editing by Andrea Ricci) ((tim.ahmann@thomsonreuters.com; Tel: +1-202-898-8370; Reuters Messaging: tim.ahmann.reuters.com@reuters.net)) ((Multimedia versions of Reuters Top News are now available for: * 3000 Xtra: visit http://topnews.session.rservices.com
    * BridgeStation: view story .134 For more information on Top News: http://topnews.reuters.com)) Keywords: FINANCIAL REGULATION/FED 
  
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 Thursday, 16 July 2009 18:28:26RTRS [nN16532891] {EN}ENDS

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