Some Dems ready to loosen tough bank regulations passed after financial crisis

From today’s LA Times:

Before the 2008 financial crisis, BAC Community Bank in Stockton made about 100 mortgage loans a year. Now, after new regulations mandated in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the figure is down to about two dozen.

“We were never a big mortgage lender, but we did quite a bit more before Dodd-Frank,” said Bill Trezza, the bank’s chief executive. “It basically pushed us out of that to the point where we will do mortgages only for our customers if they request it.”

He and other small bankers hope that’s about to change. And a political shift is making that possible.

Nearly a decade after the financial crisis, some Democrats are ready to go along with a Republican push to significantly loosen the landmark law enacted to try to prevent the next one.

Senate legislation focused on easing new mortgage and other rules for small and mid-sized and regional banks has been co-sponsored by a dozen Democrats, several of them moderates up for re-election this year in states won by President Trump in the 2016 campaign.

The bipartisan support has the bill on track to be approved as soon as this week in what would be the first major overhaul of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

The House, which has approved more extensive financial deregulation, is likely to go along with the Senate’s more modest changes. Trump, who has called Dodd-Frank “a very negative force” in the economy and vowed during the campaign to dismantle it, would be expected to sign any bill that reduces its authority.

“The tone has shifted in D.C. from where regulation was necessary to protect the economy to the concern where regulation has gone too far and might be a drag on the economy,” said Ed Mills, a Washington policy analyst for financial services firm Raymond James. “Where that shift has occurred, it gave an opening to the smaller and medium-size banks to pursue these changes.”

But while there’s broad support for easing unintentional burdens in the law for small banks, many liberal Democrats are fighting the bill from Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). They say it goes too far by also providing significant benefits for some larger financial institutions.

The legislation would exempt about 30 banks and other firms from the stricter oversight put in place by Dodd-Frank after the 2008 financial crisis. That 2010 law was an attempt to prevent a repeat of the bailouts and damage to the economy.

Read the complete article here.

When Wall Street Writes Its Own Rules, It’s An Age of Unprecedented Corruption

From today’s New York Times:

On July 25, 2013, a high-ranking federal law enforcement officer took a public stand against malfeasance on Wall Street. Preet Bharara, then the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, held a news conference to announce one of the largest Wall Street criminal cases the American justice system had ever seen.

Mr. Bharara’s office had just indicted the multibillion-dollar hedge fund firm SAC Capital Advisors, charging it with wire fraud and insider trading. Standing before a row of television cameras, Mr. Bharara described the case in momentous terms, saying that it involved illegal trading that was “substantial, pervasive and on a scale without precedent in the history of hedge funds.” His legal action that day, he assured the public, would send a strong message to the financial industry that cheating was not acceptable and that prosecutors and regulators would take swift action when behavior crossed the line.

Steven A. Cohen, the founder of SAC and one of the world’s wealthiest men, was never criminally charged, but his company would end up paying $1.8 billion in civil and criminal fines, one of the largest settlements of its kind. He denied any culpability, but his reputation was still badly — some might argue irreparably — damaged. Eight of his former employees were charged by the government, and six pleaded guilty (a few later had their convictions or guilty pleas dismissed). Mr. Cohen was required to shut his fund down and was prohibited from managing outside investors’ money until 2018.

Now, with the prohibition having expired in December, Mr. Cohen has been raising money from investors and is set to start a new hedge fund. He’ll find himself in an environment very different from the one he last operated in. His resurrection arrives as Wall Street regulation is under assault and financiers are directing tax policy and other aspects of the economy — often to the benefit of their own industry. Mr. Cohen is a powerful symbol of Wall Street’s resurgence under President Trump.

As the stock market lurched through its stomach-turning swings over the past week, it was hard not to worry that Wall Street could once again torpedo an otherwise healthy economy and to think about how little Mr. Trump and his Congress have done to prepare for such a possibility. Stock market turbulence typically prompts calls for smart and stringent financial regulation, which is not part of the Trump agenda. One of Mr. Trump’s first acts as president was to fire Mr. Bharara, who made prosecuting Wall Street crime one of his priorities. Mr. Trump has also given many gifts to people like Mr. Cohen.

Read the complete article here.

How Wells Fargo and Federal Reserve Struck Deal to Hold Board Accountable

From today’s New York Times:

On a Thursday evening in mid-January, a group of top Wells Fargo executives sat down for dinner in an upscale surf-and-turf restaurant near the White House. At nearby tables, power brokers ate seafood on ice and sipped cocktails out of copper mugs.

The Wells Fargo executives — including the chief executive, Timothy J. Sloan, and the finance chief, John R. Shrewsberry — enjoyed their crab legs, but they were in Washington on unpleasant business. The Federal Reserve planned to impose tough sanctions on the San Francisco-based bank for years of misconduct and the shoddy governance that allowed it.

The executives’ mission, according to three people directly involved in the negotiations, was to avoid further shaking investor confidence in the bank and its management team.

Officials at the central bank had a different goal, according to people familiar with their thinking. They wanted to send a message to the Wells board that it would be held responsible for the company’s behavior.

After three weeks of frenzied negotiations, deal was announced on Friday night that represented a milestone in the evolving relationship between regulators and banks. Wells Fargo, one of the country’s largest banks, was banned from getting bigger until it can convince regulators that it has cleaned up its act.

Read the complete article here.

FED Chair says risk of financial crisis increases if Trump deregulates economy

From today’s LA Times by Jim Puzzanghera:

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet L. Yellen told senators Thursday that the risk of another financial crisis would increase if some Trump administration proposals to roll back regulations were enacted.

In her second straight day of Capitol Hill testimony, she walked back her statement last month that she didn’t expect another financial crisis “in our lifetimes.”

“I think we can never be confident there won’t be another financial crisis,” Yellen told members of the Senate Banking Committee.

The U.S. has “done a great deal” since the 2008 crisis to strengthen the financial system, she said. That includes forcing banks to hold more capital to cover potential losses as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial regulatory overhaul law.

“It is important that we maintain the improvements that have been put in place that mitigate the risk and the potential damage,” Yellen said.

President Trump has promised to dismantle Dodd-Frank, which Republicans have said has been too burdensome for banks.

In a report last month ordered by Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin proposed sweeping regulatory reductions, including changes that would reduce capital requirements for the biggest banks.

Yellen said she would not favor reducing those capital requirements.

Read the entire article here.

Moody’s to downgrade large banks

FROM THE NYT DEAL BOOK BLOG:  If true, this is an important step by the market to correct for false advertising. One question is whether it will make a difference cleaning up corporate malfeasance and fraud.

Believing that the government is now more likely to let large banks fail in a crisis, Moody’s Investors Service threatened on Thursday to downgrade the credit ratings of several big financial firms.

If it follows through, Moody’s could reduce the ratings of Wall Street giants like Goldman SachsMorgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase as much as two grades.

Such a move might weigh most heavily on Morgan Stanley because a two-notch downgrade would leave the company just above a junk credit rating. But the effects on the bank may also be muted. Confidence in large banks, judging by their stock prices and other financial indicators, appears to have risen since Moody’s cut their ratings last year.

Banks, more than other types of corporations, borrow huge sums of money to finance their activities. As a result, a lower credit rating can make it harder for them to find buyers for their debt, pushing up their borrowing costs. A lower rating can also deter trading partners from entering certain types of lucrative transactions with a bank.

Financial companies’ reliance on borrowed money is what made them so unstable in the 2008 financial crisis. The government has introduced measures, many of which are contained in the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law, that are intended to put banks on a firmer financial footing.

Dodd-Frank also tries to set up a process for an orderly winding down of failing banks. Lawmakers wanted to avoid a repetition of the 2008 situation, where taxpayers were effectively forced to bail out banks to prevent their failure from hurting the wider economy.

The orderly wind-downs envisioned in Dodd-Frank could lead to big losses for creditors to banks. In recent months, regulators have started to flesh out how they might liquidate a collapsing bank. This progress prompted Moody’s to consider the downgrades now to reflect the lower possibility of government support.

“The conviction on this subject is clear, even growing,” David Fanger, a bank analyst at Moody’s, said. “This could lead to a one- or two-notch downgrade for some of these firms.”

Goldman, whose rating is A3, and JPMorgan Chase, whose rating is one notch higher at A2, declined to comment.

Many critics of the Dodd-Frank liquidation provisions doubt that the government would have the stomach to inflict losses on bank creditors in times of systemic stress. In April, Paul Volcker, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve, expressed skepticism about Dodd-Frank’s wind-down approach. “No one in the market believes it,” he said.

Still, Moody’s thinks the efforts have credibility, in part because regulators have started to describe the exact steps they might take in a liquidation. Under the plans, the government would seize the parent company of a bank and turn its debt into equity capital to make it stronger financially. In the process, regulators would most likely not seize the affected bank’s subsidiaries. That is why Moody’s on Thursday threatened to downgrade parent company ratings but not always those of bank subsidiaries.

Moody’s decision to review the ratings will reinforce the beliefs of those who say Dodd-Frank’s measures are sufficient to deal with the “too big to fail” issue. But the actions of lawmakers who do not feel the act is adequate may have also contributed to Moody’s actions. In recent months, lawmakers have introduced two bills that aim to do more to rein in large banks.

“They simply indicate the conviction within the United States government to solve the ‘too big to fail’ problem,” Mr. Fanger said. “They clearly put pressure on regulators to make the current law work.”

Mr. Fanger added that the Dodd-Frank liquidation process might lead to lower losses for creditors than a potentially less orderly approach. To reflect that possibility, any downgrades may be less severe, he said.

Citigroup and Bank of America, large banks that have relatively low ratings, may not have to worry about Moody’s latest action. The agency said their ratings had been placed on review “direction uncertain.” Moody’s perceives improved financial health at the two banks’ subsidiaries. That could offset the downward pressure on ratings from the Dodd-Frank liquidation process, Moody’s said.

S&P profits get bounce from inflating the ratings of bank investments

Here is an example of why American democracy and, by extension, the economy is irrational in real terms. Banks and financial institutions such as investment ratings agencies like Standard and Poor’s created a climate of perverse economic incentives in which they benefited from engaging in risky market transactions that led to the Great Recession. The numbers discussed in this story about how profitable S&P has become by providing (possibly) inflated ratings for investments that banks have undertaken are proof of two things:

1. We did not learn some important lessons from the Great Recession.

2. If we did learn those lessons, this knowledge has not translated into practice.

Why do we continue to allow banks and financial institutions to engage in such brazenly risky and short-sighted market behavior focused solely on profit maximization? Do we believe this kind of activity leads to innovation, job creation, and that “all boats will lift with the rising of the tide”? Doesn’t the Great Recession falsify this idealization that increased wealth means a better life for everyone?

The last recession was precipitated by the same large actors. Trillions were lost in assets. Millions lost their jobs. Why are we allowing this to happen again? Why do we tolerate a democratic process that permits the privatization of profit and the socialization of risk? Ask these questions, and read more about President Obama’s and Congress’s single biggest failure to address the problem of inequality in this country.—It’s the economy, stupid! We need to change it.

Read the story here.