Opinion

The Great Debate

Obama bank plan is good policy, good politics

– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

President Barack Obama’s proposed curbs on bank size and proprietary risk-taking will be criticised for being vague, hard to implement, and focusing on issues that were only part of the cause of the recent crisis.

But the president should ignore self-interested counsels of perfection from the industry that aim to preserve the status quo. The plan is good politics, and good policy.
On the political front, the plan is a belated attempt to reposition the administration and congressional Democrats. It aims to channel the popular revolt that washed away Democrats in New Jersey and Virginia last autumn and now in Massachusetts.

For much of the year, the administration and its allies have seemed obsessed by issues which are low on the list of voters’ concerns (healthcare, climate change) or reward special interests (bank bailouts) while appearing impotent to do anything about the rising tide of unemployment and punish those responsible for causing the crisis.

The president was radical where the electorate is cautious (healthcare and climate) but appeared to advocate the status quo where voters wanted change (banking, jobs and incomes). While each of these policies can be justified, the combination made the administration appear dangerously out of touch. The bank plan is an attempt to reconnect with the voters.

from Commentaries:

Why banks should welcome “living wills”

A year after Lehman Brothers collapsed, policymakers are still getting to grips with the key question raised by the Wall Street firm's fall: how to ensure that the failure of a large bank does not jeopardise the entire financial system.

After much debate, politicians and central bankers are warming to the idea that banks should make preparations for their own failure. This plan -- memorably dubbed a "living will" by Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England -- would allow regulators to wind down even large, cross-border institutions without putting public money at risk.

Alistair Darling, Britain's chancellor, wants to introduce legislation this autumn to force banks to draw up living wills. Such plans have drawn predictable squeals from bank executives, who claim the idea is hard to implement for large cross-border groups. They have a point. Nevertheless, bankers should embrace the idea, for the simple reason that it is better than any of the alternatives.

from Commentaries:

Wall Street’s $4 trillion kitty

matthewgoldstein.jpgThe Obama administration's plan for reining in derivatives leaves unchecked one of Wall Street's dirty little secrets: the ability of a derivatives dealer to redeploy cash collateral that gets posted by one of its trading partners.

On Wall Street, this practice of taking collateral and reusing it is called rehypothecation. In essence, it's a form of free money for derivatives dealers to use as they please -- even to repost it as collateral to finance their parent company's own borrowings.

And we're talking big bucks. The International Swaps and Derivatives Association recently reported that derivatives dealers have taken in $4 trillion in collateral from their trading partners. That's an 86 percent increase over the $2.1 trillion in cash collateral those same dealers reported having on their books in early 2008.

from Commentaries:

CIT is a warning sign

agnes1If it's not a risk to the financial system, let it fail.

That's the message from the government's reluctance to swoop in and bail out one of the nation's biggest commercial lenders, CIT Group Inc, as it struggles to stay afloat. But even though CIT doesn't have the firepower to take down the global financial system, its failure would certainly be felt by some of the struggling small businesses that rely on its financing.

CIT is negotiating with its regulators to find a solution to its near-term liquidity problems, but speculation that it will file for bankruptcy has intensified after the Wall Street Journal reported that it was preparing for a possible filing.

Not that you can blame the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp and the tough-minded Sheila Bair for thinking twice about supporting a junk-rated lender that has already sucked in more than $2 billion of government funds.

from Commentaries:

Obama loves hedge funds

Matthew GoldsteinThe big winner in the Obama administration's financial regulatory reform package is the beaten-up hedge fund industry.

Hedge funds get a particularly "light touch'' when it comes to government oversight in the Obama plan. Essentially, the administration is calling for a reinstatment of a Securities and Exchange Commisison rules that requires managers to register with the agency as investment advisors.  The rule was overturned by the federal courts, but many large hedge funds remained registered with the SEC--even though they weren't required to do so.

The registration requirement would give the SEC the authority to conduct periodic inspections and require hedge funds to report information on trading positions. But the information reported by the hedge fund would remain confidential and not shared with the general public.

The end of the Davos consensus

– James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

James Saft Great Debate It’s not exactly a wake, but participants at this year’s World Economic Forum have witnessed many of their most cherished beliefs being challenged, upended and sometimes ground in the mud.

Think of it as the “Davos Consensus,” a loose alignment of principles that held sway in this Swiss mountain resort and in large parts of the world over the past decade.

Brace yourself: Political-market risks in 2009

prestonkeat– Preston Keat is director of research at Eurasia Group, a global political risk consultancy, and author of the forthcoming book “The Fat Tail: The Power of Political Knowledge for Strategic Investors” (with Ian Bremmer). Any views expressed are his own. For the related story, click here.

There are a number of macro risks that will continue to grab headlines in 2009, including the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, cross-border tensions and state instability in Pakistan, and Iran’s 
ongoing quest to develop advanced nuclear technologies.

These risks are real, and will not be resolved easily or quickly. But there are two other general groups of political risks that could be defining both for investors and policy makers: first, the prospect of a number of interrelated market risks in developed and emerging Europe, and second, the challenges faced by the United States regarding multilateral leadership (particularly in the area of financial regulatory reform).

  •