Economics / Politics

Bloomberg’s Christine Harper reassesses the financial reform efforts of the last two years, and concludes that the banks pretty much got everything they could ever want.

“Wall Street’s biggest banks, whose missteps caused a global financial crisis and economic slowdown two years ago, were more agile when it came to countering the political and regulatory response.
“The U.S. government, promising to make the system safer, buckled under many of the financial industry’s protests. Lawmakers spurned changes that would wall off deposit-taking banks from riskier trading. They declined to limit the size of lenders or ban any form of derivatives. Higher capital and liquidity requirements agreed to by regulators worldwide have been delayed for years to aid economic recovery.
“We continue to listen to the same people whose errors in judgment were central to the problem,” said John Reed, 71, a former co-chief executive officer of Citigroup Inc., who estimated only 25 percent of needed changes have been enacted. “I’m astounded because we basically dropped the world’s biggest economy because of an error in bank management.”
The last two years have been the best ever for combined investment-banking and trading revenue at Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, 56, and his top deputies are in line to collect more than $100 million in delayed 2007 bonuses — six months after paying $550 million to settle a fraud lawsuit related to the firm’s behavior that year. Citigroup, the bank that needed more taxpayer support than any other, has a balance sheet 14 percent bigger than it was four years ago.”

“Even when changes were advocated by people who couldn’t be characterized as radical populists, their ideas were dismissed as unrealistic, misinformed, advancing ulterior motives or damaging to U.S. competitiveness.
“Such tactics helped bat back suggestions from billionaire hedge fund manager George Soros and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Vice Chairman Charles Munger that regulators ban purchases of so-called naked credit-default swaps — contracts that allow speculators to profit if a debt issuer defaults.
“Geithner was an early opponent of any such ban, arguing at a March 2009 House Financial Services Committee hearing that it wasn’t necessary and wouldn’t help.
“It’s too hard to distinguish what’s a legitimate hedge that has some economic value from what people might just feel is a speculative bet on some future outcome,” he said.”

“The CFTC withdrew a proposed rule on Dec. 9 after at least one commissioner, Scott O’Malia, a former aide to Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, objected. The rule would have required dealers of private swaps to quote prices to all market users before trades could be executed on an electronic system. A new version, approved Dec. 16, will save dealers billions of dollars, according to Moody’s Investors Service, because they will be able to limit price information to select participants.
“An amendment requiring banks to spin out their swaps-dealing operations into separately capitalized units, so they wouldn’t have access to government backstops, made it into the Dodd-Frank bill. It was diluted at the end to exempt interest-rate and foreign-exchange contracts that make up more than 90 percent of the derivatives held by U.S. banks.
“Banks were also allowed to trade derivatives used to hedge their own risks and given up to two years to trade other types of derivatives, such as credit-default swaps that aren’t standard enough to be cleared through a central counterparty.”

“While the Dodd-Frank Act is the most sweeping financial legislation in decades, creating a consumer-protection office for financial products and a council of regulators charged with monitoring systemic risk, it won’t fundamentally change a U.S. banking system dominated by six companies with a combined $9.4 trillion of assets, MIT’s (Simon) Johnson said.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/print/2010-12-28/out-of-lehman-s-ashes-wall-street-gets-what-it-wants-as-government-obliges.html

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