Opinion

The Great Debate

Volcker Rule unexpectedly revived by Dodd bill

Paul Volcker’s proposed ban on banks’ proprietary trading or owning hedge funds or private equity funds has been unexpectedly revived in the financial regulation bill published by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd yesterday.

The Volcker Rule’s surprise survival comes despite fierce opposition from the banking industry and after many commentators had written it off as a short-term political gimmick in the wake of the shock election defeat in Massachusetts. Dodd himself had appeared lukewarm.

In fact, Section 619 of the bill (“Restrictions on Capital Market Activity by Banks and Bank Holding Companies”) would give legislative effect to the proposals almost exactly as outlined by President Barack Obama at the press conference in January.

BANS ON PROP TRADING, HEDGE FUND SPONSORSHIP
Section 619 (b) instructs the new Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) to issue rules that “prohibit proprietary trading by an insured depository institution, a company that controls an insured depository institution or is treated as a bank holding company”.

That covers pretty much every major bank in the United States as well as former securities firms Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley that converted to bank holding companies and then financial holding companies to access Federal Reserve support at the height of the crisis. Just in case they are tempted to convert back, the bill contains another provision, Section 117, ensuring the rules apply to them anyway.

Lowering risks from large, complex financial institutions

– Robert R. Bench, a former deputy Comptroller of the Currency, is a senior fellow at the Boston University School of Law Morin Center for Banking and Financial Law. The views expressed are his own. –

Financial institutions inherently are fragile.

As intermediaries, they are exposed to both exogenous and endogenous threats. The 2007-2008 financial crisis was caused by endogenous forces.  Simply, financial institutions were poorly governed, taking-on extreme liabilities and gambling them into high risk activities.  The meltdown of the financial system fed contractionary forces into the real economy, causing our “great recession,” creating negative exogenous loops back into financial institutions.

The roots of the financial crisis were poor underwriting of credit.  However, the crisis happened because that credit risk was amplified through abusive underwriting, distributing, and trading of debt-backed financial instruments.  The abuse was driven by “heads I win, tails you lose” compensation schemes.  Wall Street won, Main Street lost.

First 100 Days: Prioritize and take a hands-on approach

ram-charan-photo– Ram Charan is the author several book, including “Leadership in the Era of Economic Uncertainty: The New Rules for Getting the Right Things Done in Difficult Times.” A noted expert on business strategy, Charan has coached CEOs and helped companies like GE, Bank of America, Verizon, KLM, and Thomson shape and implement their strategic direction. The opinions expressed are his own. –

The first 100 days demand that President Barack Obama sort out his priorities and choose the ones that will help solve many others. With many constituencies and direct reports clamoring for his time and attention, he cannot attend to them all.  He has to decide which of the many complex and urgent issues that have accumulated must be resolved first.

The new president will inevitably be pushed to spend a huge amount of time on foreign policy.  But I suggest that the president’s top priority should be to get the nation out of this economic and psychological funk.  He has selected some very capable people who will help sort out the economic mess. He made a brilliant move to have Paul Volcker in the White House.

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