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Posts Tagged ‘Chris Dodd’

George Melloan’s column in the Wall Street Journal discusses the new Basel capital standards and correctly observes that 22 years of global banking regulations have not generated good results. This is not because requiring reserves is a bad thing, but rather because such policies do nothing to fix the real problem. In the case of the United States, easy money policy by the Fed and a corrupt system of Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac subsidies caused the housing bubble and resulting financial crisis. Yet these problems have not been addressed, either in the Dodd-Frank bailout bill or the new Basel rules. Indeed, Melloan points out that Fannie and Freddie were exempted from the Dood-Frank legislation.

There’s something to be said for holding banks to higher capital standards, even at the cost of more constrained lending and slower economic growth. But the much-bruited idea that Basel rules will make the world freer of financial crises is highly doubtful, given current political circumstances. The 2008 financial meltdown was not primarily the result of lax regulation but of co-option and abuse of the U.S. financial system by the political class in Washington. The federal government’s “affordable housing” endeavors, beginning in the 1990s, allowed and even forced banks to make highly risky mortgage loans. Those loans were folded into mortgage-backed securities (MBS) sold in vast numbers throughout the world, most promiscuously by two government-sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Federal Reserve contributed a credit bubble that caused house prices to soar, a classic asset inflation. When the bubble began to deflate in 2007, the bad loans in mortgage securities became poisonous. The MBS market seized up, and financial institutions holding them became illiquid and began to crash. The Lehman Brothers collapse was the biggest shock. The only way Basel standards might have helped prevent this would have been if they had been applied to Fannie and Freddie as well as to banks. They weren’t. President Bill Clinton exempted the two giants from Basel capitalization rules because they were the primary instruments of a federal policy aimed at helping more lower-income people become homeowners. This was a laudable goal that ultimately wrecked the housing and banking industries. Washington has learned nothing from this debacle, which is why the next financial crisis is likely to have federal policy origins and may come sooner than we think. Fannie and Freddie—now fully controlled by Uncle Sam and exempt from the Dodd-Frank financial “reform” legislation—are still going strong, guaranteeing and restructuring loans while they continue to rack up huge losses for taxpayers. …The record since the Basel process began 22 years ago doesn’t generate faith in banking regulation either. Basel rules didn’t prevent the collapse of Japanese banking in 1990, they didn’t prevent the 2008 meltdown, and they are not preventing the banking failures that plague the financial system even today.

P.S. The bureaucrats and regulators who put together the Basel capital standards were the ones who decided that mortgage-backed securities were very safe assets and required less capital. That was a common assumption at the time, so the point is not that the Basel folks are particularly incompetent, but rather that regulation is a very poor substitute for market discipline. Letting financial firms go bankrupt instead of bailing them out would be a far better way of encouraging prudence.

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Appearing on Fox Business News, I summarize the many reasons why the Bush-Paulson-Obama-Geithner TARP bailout was – and still is – bad policy.

I’m sure I have plenty of flaws, but at least I am philosophically consistent. Here’s what I said about the issue more than 18 months ago. The core message is the same (though I also notice I have a bad habit of starting too many sentences with “well”).

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The Wall Street Journal opines about the number of new regulations that will be generated by the so-called financial reform legislation that has been approved by Congress. The big winners will by lawyers, the federal bureaucracy, and politicians. The big losers will be shareholders and consumers.
The Dodd-Frank financial reform bill passed by the Senate yesterday promises to generate historic levels of red tape. But apparently the 2,300 pages are so complicated that a debate has broken out over precisely how many new regulatory rule-makings it will require. This week we reported on an analysis by the Davis Polk & Wardwell law firm that at least 243 new federal rule-makings are on the way, not to mention 67 one-time studies and another 22 new periodic reports. The attorneys were careful to note that this was a low-ball estimate, counting only new regulations mandated by the bill. Now comes Tom Quaadman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who doesn’t quarrel with the Davis Polk estimate but has added rule-makings authorized by this legislation to those that are mandated and says that American businesses should expect a whopping 533 new sets of rules. To put this number in perspective, Sarbanes-Oxley, Washington’s last exercise in financial regulatory overreach, demanded only 16 new regulations. Thus he reasons that Dodd-Frank “is over 30 times the size of SOX.” …While it might seem that the regulatory uncertainty created by the bill won’t last much longer than a decade as new rules are implemented, that also could be optimistic. When regulators are granted new authorities without expiration dates on their powers, the rule-making possibilities are infinite. …The most likely result of Dodd-Frank in the near term is a generally higher cost of credit, and a bigger market share for the largest banks that can more easily absorb the new regulatory costs. In the longer term, do not expect it to prevent the next financial mania and panic.

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Nicole Gelinas has been one of the most astute observers of how government has screwed up the financial system and her column in the Washington Examiner is an excellent summary of why the Dodd-Frank bill is a step in the wrong direction. 
For 25 years, Washington has done everything in its power to subsidize Americans’ profligate borrowing habits. Debt became the fuel for economic growth. Washington subsidized the financial industry’s borrowing through implicit guarantees against loss. The feds first started rescuing creditors to “too big to fail” banks in 1984. Since then, it’s become clear to lenders — Wall Street’s global bondholders and trading counterparties — that the government would save them anytime a large financial firm foundered. Indemnified against losses, bondholders could lend nearly infinitely to Wall Street. Wall Street found creative ways to lend that money right back to the public, through mortgage brokers and credit card marketers. …The Dodd-Frank bill is a monument to the status quo. Despite promises that the bill will end bailouts, it enshrines bailouts into law. It provides for an “orderly liquidation authority,” for example, which allows “systemically important” financial firms to escape bankruptcy and to escape, too, consistent losses for their creditors. It also sets up a fast-track procedure through which the White House can ask Congress for guarantees for Wall Street’s lenders in a future crisis. In effect, the government is saying to Wall Street’s lenders: Carry on as you did before 2008. Ordinary Americans, though, understand that they can’t go on as before. Since 2008, they’ve started paying their debt back. The process is painful. As Americans borrow less, they spend less and pay less for houses. But as Americans pare back their debt, the economy will begin to heal permanently. As house prices fall, for example, because less borrowed money exists to send them higher, Americans will have more money left over after paying the mortgage. They can invest that money in the stock market for retirement. Those funds, in turn, will go to entrepreneurs who create jobs outside of the financial industry. The Dodd-Frank bill would pervert this healthy process. It would pit Washington’s too-big-to-fail subsidies and Wall Street’s creativity against Americans who are trying to do the right thing for themselves and the country.

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