Exclusive outtakes from industry leaders
Barney Frank says “no right answer” to Merrill sale problem
Barney Frank indicated he isn’t as disturbed as some other lawmakers by revelations about the pressure that was brought to bear on Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis to complete the takeover of Merrill Lynch in the face of indications that Merrill’s financial position had deteriorated dramatically. Frank told the Reuters Global Financial Regulation Summit in Washington that “there was no right answer” over whether the government should have intervened to make sure the deal was done.
Last week, senior Republican Senator Richard Shelby joined House Democrats in seeking more details after New York’s attorney general said Lewis had testified he was pressured by former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to do the merger, or lose his job. Shelby even brought up the question of possible securities fraud over the controversy.
Frank, who is the powerful chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee, said that while there may be some disclosure problems over Bank of America’s failure to keep investors informed he didn’t believe it was as simple as saying that Paulson and Bernanke shouldn’t have intervened. If they had allowed Merrill to fail it could have led to disaster, said Frank, who had a less combative and brusque manner than he is sometimes known for in today’s 50-minute Q&A with the Reuters news team.
Frank’s way to avoid such problems in the future is to create an authority that can seize and unwind large institutions that are failing and creating systemic risk for the entire financial system.