MacroScope

Raskin’s warning: ‘Shouldn’t pretend’ Fed capital rules are a panacea

Post corrected to show Brooksley Born is a former head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) not a former Fed board governor.

Underlying the Federal Reserve recent announcement on new capital rules was a general sense of “mission accomplished.” The U.S. central bank, also a key financial regulator, has finally implemented requirements that it says could help prevent a repeat of the 2008 banking meltdown by forcing Wall Street firms to rely less heavily on debt, thereby making them less vulnerable during times of stress.

As Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke put it in his opening remarks:

Today’s meeting marks an important step in the board’s efforts to enhance the resilience of the U.S. banking system and to promote broader financial stability.

The final rule that we’re considering today puts in place a comprehensive, regulatory capital framework that the board has been developing for some time in consultation with our domestic and international colleagues in central banks and regulatory agencies. Critically, this framework requires our banking organizations to hold more and higher quality capital, capital that will act as a financial cushion to absorb future losses while reducing the incentives for firms to take excessive risks.

Strong capital requirements are essential if we hope to have safe and sound banks that can weather economic and financial stress while continuing to meet the credit needs of our economy.

Mystery of the missing Fed regulator

It’s one of those touchy subjects that Federal Reserve officials don’t really want to talk about, thank you very much.

For nearly three years now, no one has been tapped to serve as the U.S. central bank’s Vice Chairman for Supervision. According to the landmark 2010 Dodd-Frank bill, which created the position to show that the Fed means business as it cracks down on Wall Street, President Obama was to appoint a Vice Chair to spearhead bank oversight and to regularly answer to Congress as Chairman Ben Bernanke’s right hand man.

For all intents and purposes, Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo does that job and has done it for quite some time. He’s the central bank’s regulation czar, articulating new proposals such as the recent clampdown on foreign bank operations, and he keeps banks on edge every time he takes to the podium. But he has not been named Vice Chair, leaving us to simply assume he won’t be.

A picture is worth a thousand pages of financial reform

Here’s a snapshot of FDR & Co. in 1933 as they signed Glass-Steagall, which separated the financial sector into safer, deposit-taking commercial banks and risk-taking investment banks – Wall Street.

And here’s a photo of Bill Clinton & Co. repealing Glass-Steagall in 1999, with the passage of the Graham-Leach-Bliley act known as the Financial Services Modernization Act. 

Fed call for cap on bank size sparks fresh debate on too big to fail

Federal Reserve Board Governor Daniel Tarullo’s call for limiting bank size is sparking debate in unexpected places. Keith Hennessey, who ran the National Economic Council under President Bush, was in Chicago late last week for a discussion with Democratic lawmaker Barney Frank. The topic of the panel, sponsored by CME Group Inc., was the housing crisis.

But the most spirited exchange took place after Hennessey said that banks are simply too big to regulate adequately. “I think Tarullo has got a good point,” he said, referring to Tarullo’s argument for the need to cap bank size. Hennessey, as Bush’s economic policy assistant in 2008, was among administration officials that worked to win Congressional approval for the bailout of insurance major AIG, as its failure threatened to plunge the nation’s financial markets, already reeling from the failure of Lehman Brothers, even deeper into crisis.

Lawmakers eventually relented. On Friday, Frank, who co-authored Wall Street reform legislation designed to prevent another bailout of a too-big-to-fail financial institutions, was not about to cede ground this time to Hennessey. “I didn’t ask what Tarullo thinks – are you for breaking up the banks, and if so, to what size, and by what method?”  “Right now I don’t see any better solution than what Tarullo has suggested – yes, a size cap on banks… The alternative is a repeat of the 2008 crisis.” After the panel, Frank said he took issue with the idea, both from a technical perspective – “How do you do it? Do you sell it? Who’s going to buy it? The other banks by definition can’t.” – and because of concern that trimming bank size will hurt the ability of U.S. financial institutions to compete internationally.

MIT’s Johnson takes anti-Dimon fight to Fed’s doorstep

Simon Johnson is on a mission. The MIT professor and former IMF economist is trying to push JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon to resign his seat on the board of the New York Fed, which regulates his bank. Alternatively, he would like to shame the Federal Reserve into rewriting its code of conduct so that CEOs of banks seen as too big to fail can no longer serve.

Asked about Dimon’s NY Fed seat during testimony this month, Bernanke argued that it was up to Congress to address any perceived conflicts of interest.

But Johnson says the Fed itself should be trying to counter the perception of internal conflicts. He told reporters in a conference call:

Who are hedge funds dating?

The world of hedge funds is as mysterious as it is profitable, and remains highly opaque even after a raft of new reforms aimed at strengthening financial stability. While there is general agreement among policymakers that the the so-called shadow banking system was at the epicenter of the financial crisis of 2008, hedge funds still face little or no regulatory scrutiny, despite their size and importance in financial markets.

That worries Andrew Lo, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. For him, the basic registration requirements for hedge funds are not nearly sufficient to give regulators a broad sense of the potential risks present in the markets. On the sidelines of an International Monetary Fund meeting, Lo compared the relationship to that of a parent keeping tabs on a growing teenage child.

Let’s say you’re a parent and your child has started dating. You don’t necessarily need to know everything they are doing, but you’d at least like to know who they are going out with.