Two Contradictory Arguments That Dodd-Frank is Crony Capitalism

Dec 17, 2014Mike Konczal

I’m pretty convinced that the term “crony capitalism,” as deployed by the right, is useless as a political or analytical tool. I keep a close eye on how conservatives talk about financial reform, and according to the right, Dodd-Frank is crony capitalism. Oh noes! But what does that mean, and how can we stop it? Here’s a fascinating case in point: two AEI scholars with different publications argue that we need to stop Dodd-Frank from enabling crony capitalism, and then proceed to describe two opposite, mutually exclusive sets of problems and solutions.

First, a good test question: The Federal Reserve recently required that the largest firms have a greater capital surcharge than had been originally proposed. Is that cronyism?

Here’s one story, from James Pethokoukis in ”Fighting the Crony Capitalist Alliance”: “our highly concentrated and interconnected, Too Big to Fail financial system [...] gives a competitive edge to megabanks.” How is that? Regulators create incentives for big banks to take on risks “such as investing in mortgage-backed securities and complex derivatives.” Banks are the size they are, and do the activities that they do, because of the actions of regulators.

So how do we combat this problem? According to Pethokoukis, we should “substantially raise the capital requirements for Too Big To Fail banks” to limit risk. Even more, “such capital requirements might well nudge the biggest banks into shrinking themselves or breaking up.”

Here’s another story, from Tim Carney’s “Anti-Cronyism Agenda for the 114th Congress”: Dodd-Frank is cronyism because “[e]xcessive regulation is often the most effective crony capitalism.” What’s worse is that Dodd-Frank designates the biggest firms as Systemically Important Financial Institutions (SIFIs), meaning that they pose a systemic risk to the economy. Those firms are put under more regulation, but it’s obviously a cover for a permanent set of protections.

So what should we do? According to Carney’s agenda, Congress should “open banking up to more competition by repealing regulations that give large incumbent banks advantages over smaller ones.” Well, which regulations are those? “Congress should repeal its authority to designate large financial firms as SIFIs.”

Note that though these are from the same institution and carry the same banner of fighting “cronyism,” these agendas are the exact opposite of each other. For Pethokoukis, the important goal is identifying the largest and riskiest institutions and putting aggressive regulations on them, with capital requirements set high enough that they could fundamentally shrink those banks. For Carney, it’s important that we do not identify any firm as too large that it is risky for the economy, and thus increase their capital requirements, since doing so just encourages cronyism -- indeed, it is the logical conclusion of cronyism. Don’t regulate the largest firms with more attention or care; just don’t do anything to them.

In the Pethokoukis version, the financial sector poses a real threat to the stability of the economy, and as such special efforts should be made to prevent failure and handle failure when it does occur. His answer is, essentially, to do more. In the Carney version, there’s no real danger outside the government’s interference, or at least not a danger that is worth a policy solution. His answer is to do nothing, except repeal what regulation already exists.

And, crucially, for Pethokoukis, the recent increase in capital surcharges for SIFIs are a good idea; for Carney, they enshrine the problem by working through the SIFI framework, and are a bad idea. How can a policy agenda be built around such a “cronyism” framework?

There are other problems with “cronyism” as described here. Pethokoukis blames cronyism for the concentration in the financial sector in the last few decades. However the previous argument had been that the size and geographic restrictions that prevented this concentration before the 1990s are the real cronyism. Dodd-Frank blocks a single financial firm from having liabilities in excess of 10 percent of all liabilities, benefitting smaller firms at the expense of larger ones. Is that cronyism or the opposite? Cronyism can’t just be “things turned out in a terrible way when left to the markets.”

As Rich Yeselson notes in a fantastic essay on New Left historians in the recent issue of Democracy, the Gabriel Kolko-inspired stories about how regulations evolves (stories that influence Carney) are monomaniacally mono-causal. So just quoting CEOs’ statements to the press about Dodd-Frank constitutes analysis, as the regulations must obviously flow from elite desires through their captured lackeys in the state.

But Dodd-Frank is more complicated than that - look at the effort to stop the CFPB from starting, or the epic battles both between and within regulators, the state and consumers over derivatives. Carney’s top-down inescapable vision of how reform works leaves no room for the contingency of actual efforts to fix a broken system. In turn, this leaves us with no way to actually critique what Dodd-Frank does. Worse, it conflates fighting “cronyism” with an agenda of laissez-faire economics, liberty of contract, and hard money, sneaking in a three-legged stool of reactionary thought through our concerns about fairness.

Actual cronyism is a real problem, but I’ve seen no evidence that it adds up to a systemic criticism of our economy as a whole. Instead, we need a language of accountability, benefit and power in how markets are structured. Without this, we’ll have no working compass for reform.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

I’m pretty convinced that the term “crony capitalism,” as deployed by the right, is useless as a political or analytical tool. I keep a close eye on how conservatives talk about financial reform, and according to the right, Dodd-Frank is crony capitalism. Oh noes! But what does that mean, and how can we stop it? Here’s a fascinating case in point: two AEI scholars with different publications argue that we need to stop Dodd-Frank from enabling crony capitalism, and then proceed to describe two opposite, mutually exclusive sets of problems and solutions.

First, a good test question: The Federal Reserve recently required that the largest firms have a greater capital surcharge than had been originally proposed. Is that cronyism?

Here’s one story, from James Pethokoukis in ”Fighting the Crony Capitalist Alliance”: “our highly concentrated and interconnected, Too Big to Fail financial system [...] gives a competitive edge to megabanks.” How is that? Regulators create incentives for big banks to take on risks “such as investing in mortgage-backed securities and complex derivatives.” Banks are the size they are, and do the activities that they do, because of the actions of regulators.

So how do we combat this problem? According to Pethokoukis, we should “substantially raise the capital requirements for Too Big To Fail banks” to limit risk. Even more, “such capital requirements might well nudge the biggest banks into shrinking themselves or breaking up.”

Here’s another story, from Tim Carney’s “Anti-Cronyism Agenda for the 114th Congress”: Dodd-Frank is cronyism because “[e]xcessive regulation is often the most effective crony capitalism.” What’s worse is that Dodd-Frank designates the biggest firms as Systemically Important Financial Institutions (SIFIs), meaning that they pose a systemic risk to the economy. Those firms are put under more regulation, but it’s obviously a cover for a permanent set of protections.

So what should we do? According to Carney’s agenda, Congress should “open banking up to more competition by repealing regulations that give large incumbent banks advantages over smaller ones.” Well, which regulations are those? “Congress should repeal its authority to designate large financial firms as SIFIs.”

Note that though these are from the same institution and carry the same banner of fighting “cronyism,” these agendas are the exact opposite of each other. For Pethokoukis, the important goal is identifying the largest and riskiest institutions and putting aggressive regulations on them, with capital requirements set high enough that they could fundamentally shrink those banks. For Carney, it’s important that we do not identify any firm as too large that it is risky for the economy, and thus increase their capital requirements, since doing so just encourages cronyism -- indeed, it is the logical conclusion of cronyism. Don’t regulate the largest firms with more attention or care; just don’t do anything to them.

In the Pethokoukis version, the financial sector poses a real threat to the stability of the economy, and as such special efforts should be made to prevent failure and handle failure when it does occur. His answer is, essentially, to do more. In the Carney version, there’s no real danger outside the government’s interference, or at least not a danger that is worth a policy solution. His answer is to do nothing, except repeal what regulation already exists.

And, crucially, for Pethokoukis, the recent increase in capital surcharges for SIFIs are a good idea; for Carney, they enshrine the problem by working through the SIFI framework, and are a bad idea. How can a policy agenda be built around such a “cronyism” framework?

There are other problems with “cronyism” as described here. Pethokoukis blames cronyism for the concentration in the financial sector in the last few decades. However the previous argument had been that the size and geographic restrictions that prevented this concentration before the 1990s are the real cronyism. Dodd-Frank blocks a single financial firm from having liabilities in excess of 10 percent of all liabilities, benefitting smaller firms at the expense of larger ones. Is that cronyism or the opposite? Cronyism can’t just be “things turned out in a terrible way when left to the markets.”

As Rich Yeselson notes in a fantastic essay on New Left historians in the recent issue of Democracy, the Gabriel Kolko-inspired stories about how regulations evolves (stories that influence Carney) are monomaniacally mono-causal. So just quoting CEOs’ statements to the press about Dodd-Frank constitutes analysis, as the regulations must obviously flow from elite desires through their captured lackeys in the state.

But Dodd-Frank is more complicated than that - look at the effort to stop the CFPB from starting, or the epic battles both between and within regulators, the state and consumers over derivatives. Carney’s top-down inescapable vision of how reform works leaves no room for the contingency of actual efforts to fix a broken system. In turn, this leaves us with no way to actually critique what Dodd-Frank does. Worse, it conflates fighting “cronyism” with an agenda of laissez-faire economics, liberty of contract, and hard money, sneaking in a three-legged stool of reactionary thought through our concerns about fairness.

Actual cronyism is a real problem, but I’ve seen no evidence that it adds up to a systemic criticism of our economy as a whole. Instead, we need a language of accountability, benefit and power in how markets are structured. Without this, we’ll have no working compass for reform.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

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Daily Digest - December 17: Who Takes the Biggest Share of the Sharing Economy?

Dec 17, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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The Bloomberg Advantage: Konczal on Uber (Bloomberg)

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The Bloomberg Advantage: Konczal on Uber (Bloomberg)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal says that since most of the capital in Uber is in the cars, it's hard to justify the software developers getting such a large chunk of profits.

Senate Democrats Tell the SEC to Get Moving on CEO Pay Rule (HuffPo)

The public comment period for the CEO pay ratio rule expired a year ago, and some Senate Democrats are tired of waiting for it to be implemented, reports Zach Carter.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Holmberg explains the CEO pay debate in this recent primer.

Unions Sue to Stop Chicago Pension Overhaul (Chicago Sun-Times)

Fran Spielman explains why a dozen retirees and their four unions are suing the city: they say the changes are against the state constitution, which guarantees government pensions.

Some Investors Still Heart Big Banks, No Matter What Elizabeth Warren Says (The Guardian)

Suzanne McGee considers why some investors are putting their money with the big banks, despite the continued question of whether regulators will try to break them up.

Are the Democrats Allowing Social Security to Twist in the Wind? (LA Times)

Failing to vote on a Social Security commissioner is just another examples of Democrats' failure to provide this essential program with strong enough support, writes Michael Hiltzik.

The Great Budget Sellout of 2014: Do We Even Have a Second Party? (TAP)

Robert Kuttner characterizes the new spending bill as proof that our two major parties are fundamentally the same: willing to gut Dodd-Frank, defund the EPA, and cut Pell grants.

The U.S. Middle Class Has Faced a Huge “Inequality Tax” in Recent Decades (EPI)

Josh Bivens shows how U.S. middle-class income could have grown if it had matched the average growth rate over that time, as occurred following World War II.

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Daily Digest - December 16: Inequality Hurts our Children Most

Dec 16, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Inequality and the American Child (Project Syndicate)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Inequality and the American Child (Project Syndicate)

Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz says the impact of economic inequality in the U.S. is even stronger on its children, who could be protected through the right policy changes.

Taxpayers Could be Liable Again for Bank Blunders (CBS News)

Erik Sherman speaks to Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal about the modification to Dodd-Frank built into the spending bill. Mike says the changes come straight from the banks.

Progressives Just Lost a Fight on the Budget. So Why Are They So Happy? (TAP)

Paul Waldman suggests that GOP control of Congress is liberating to the more progressive Democrats, because they no longer have to compromise to pass Democratic legislation.

The Year in Inequality: Racial Disparity Can No Longer Be Ignored (AJAM)

Ned Resnikoff says solving American economic inequality will prove impossible without acknowledging the racial disparities brought on largely by inheritance and homeownership.

Economic Recovery Spreads to the Middle Class (NYT)

Nelson D. Schwartz says the U.S. economy is showing its very first signs of the wage gains that will be needed for the economic recovery to reach the middle class.

Even With a GOP Congress, Obama Could Still Defend American Workers. Here’s How. (In These Times)

David Moberg puts together a list of ten items that the president could accomplish using the Department of Labor, in particular by strongly enforcing the Fair Labor Standards Act.

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Daily Digest - December 15: An Uber That Really Is Sharing

Dec 15, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Socialize Uber (The Nation)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal and Bryce Covert present a way to transform Uber into a company that would truly be part of a "sharing economy": make it a worker cooperative.

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Socialize Uber (The Nation)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal and Bryce Covert present a way to transform Uber into a company that would truly be part of a "sharing economy": make it a worker cooperative.

My Talk to the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network (On The Economy)

Jared Bernstein gave the keynote at the Campus Network's 10th anniversary party. He's published his talk, which was on the need to combine head and heart in economic policy-making.

Wall Street’s Revenge (NYT)

Paul Krugman says that Wall Street has so heavily funded the Republican party in order to get back on Democrats for Dodd-Frank financial reform, and this spending bill is only the first step.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch and Fellow Mike Konczal each wrote about the rollback of Dodd-Frank in the cromnibus last week.

Pension Bill Seen as Model for Further Cuts (WSJ)

John D. McKinnon says some on the left worry that the pension-cutting measure in the spending bill could create precedent for even more pension cuts, possibly even to Social Security.

Obama's Left-Side Headache (Bloomberg Politics)

Margaret Talev and Michael C. Binder suggest that one of the biggest challenges the president will face from the incoming Congress will be from progressives like Senator Warren.

The Devalued American Worker (WaPo)

Jim Tankersley explains how the past three recessions, by breaking previous patterns of post-recession job growth, have cut middle-skill jobs and lowered wages for many.

Thanks to Labor Board Ruling, You Can Now Use Company Email to Organize a Union (In These Times)

Overriding a 2007 decision, the National Labor Relations Board has decided that email functions more like the water cooler than as high-cost company equipment, reports Moshe Z. Marvit.

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The Bipartisan Policy Center Gets It Wrong: The Lincoln Amendment is Critical to Financial Reform

Dec 11, 2014Mike KonczalAlexis GoldsteinCaitlin Kline

A wide variety of people, ranging from Senators Elizabeth Warren and David Vitter to Representative Maxine Waters and FDIC’s Thomas Hoenig, are trying to stop a last-minute attempt to remove an important piece of financial reform. They are all speaking up against a move to repeal the Lincoln Amendment using language written by Citigroup in the year-end budget process.

Given the wide variety of people against it, it’s interesting how few people are for it. One of the few institutions that has defended it is the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), whose Financial Regulatory Reform Initiative released a statement saying:

“The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act is consistent with BPC’s recommendations to repeal the Lincoln Amendment and to substantially increase funding for the SEC and CFTC.”

These recommendations they cite date back to a 2013 paper, “Better Path Forward on the Volcker Rule and the Lincoln Amendment,” that included arguments against pushing out swaps.

What’s their case, and does it hold up under scrutiny? We argue it does not. It misreads the purpose and scope of the Volcker Rule, disregards their own analysis on how financial reform should proceed, misses recent developments in the derivatives market, and ignores the issue of what an implicit government support means for exotic derivatives.

As a reminder, the Lincoln Amendment pushing out swaps (which we’ll refer to as 716) insists that the largest banks hold their exotic, customized, and non-cleared derivatives outside of their FDIC-insured entities in separately capitalized subsidiaries. 716 exempted most standardized derivatives, including interest rate and foreign exchange swaps, as well as cleared credit default swaps (CDS). This provision only applies to the odd and dangerous stuff.

So what are BPC's arguments?

716 and Volcker Accomplish Different Goals

Their core argument is that 716 is redundant, and therefore unnecessary, because of the Volcker Rule.  As they put it,“[L]ike the Volcker Rule, the Lincoln Amendment was intended to separate certain securities-related activities from traditional banking activities.” BPC further argues that with a “proper implementation of the Volcker Rule… the rationale for the Lincoln Amendment may no longer apply.”

This is not the case. The Volcker Rule is about risky activities, and focuses on eliminating the gambling risks associated with proprietary trading and exposure to certain types of investment funds. 716, on the other hand, is about risky products, and aims to reduce risk to the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) by utilizing separately capitalized entities for the riskiest derivatives.

While there is some overlap between the two, there are significant gaps. For instance, exemptions in the Volcker Rule allow some of the riskiest trades to be done within FDIC-insured entities -- things like making markets in bespoke, exotic, uncleared credit default swaps. Indeed, walking away from the financial crisis with an attitude that uncleared credit default swaps are no big issue is quite troubling. This puts the Deposit Insurance Fund at risk. 

716 complements Volcker by forcing the riskiest and most non-vanilla derivatives and CDS into a separately capitalized entity, something Volcker doesn’t do by itself. This helps protect the DIF in case a firm gets into trouble market-making bespoke trades that can’t be perfectly hedged – a Volcker-compliant activity. 

The Final Volcker Rule Isn’t Fully Implemented

Shockingly, BPC is violating its own analysis with this recommendation. In the 2013 paper, BPC “recommends a wait-and-see approach regarding the Lincoln Amendment until more experience can be gained from the Volcker Rule.” Only then, if the full implementation of the Volcker Rule is working well, could the Lincoln Amendment “be repealed without any negative effect.”

It is disturbing that the BPC supports this removal of the Lincoln Amendment before the Volcker Rule is fully implemented in mid-2015, and even before we've had time to see how it impacts the financial markets. It’s not even clear how they are judging whether the Volcker Rule is working the way they want, given that the data and metrics they rely on so heavily have only just begun to be reported to regulators, and are non-public.

Shoving a bank-written addition into a budget bill, not unlike the CFMA of 2000 which helped create the crisis, is the exact opposite of a “wait-and-see approach.”

Pushout Doesn’t Harm Bank Resolution

Another argument made against 716 was that it would complicate the ability of regulators to deal with a bank failure. BPC points out that regulators are empowered to grant a temporary stay to derivatives, preventing derivative creditors from grabbing collateral while others wait two days, as they did with Lehman Brothers. (Under bankruptcy, derivatives are exempt from this temporary stay, which can complicate and accelerate bankruptcy.)

Part of the argument is true: Dodd-Frank did grant the FDIC new powers under the Orderly Liquidation Authority, which allows them to force a 24-hour stay on derivatives (overriding the exemption), but this only applies to banks under FDIC purview.

BPC argued that the largest banks should be allowed to keep derivatives inside the FDIC accounts, so that they could utilize the FDIC’s OLA power. BPC writes that the 716 “subsidiaries would not enjoy the temporary stay on the unwinding of contracts that applies to banks under FDIC resolution procedures. Rapid termination of such contracts in the event of a bank failure would have a disruptive impact on financial markets."

But this argument is much less valid than it was when it was written, precisely because regulators are anticipating this problem. Eighteen of the major banks and the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) agreed in October that they’d contractually apply temporary stays to derivatives. With wide agreement among the banks to apply temporary stays anyway, the proper course of action is to work through this process of standardizing derivatives for automatic stays across the financial sector, rather than trying to use taxpayer funds to backstop them.

Apart from the BPC arguments, we wish to raise an additional point:  

Should Policy Allow Firms to Capitalize on Market-Perceived Subsidies?

Keeping derivatives in FDIC-insured entities lowers their costs: creditors charge lower rates, as FDIC accounts are seen as having the backing of the federal government. And these FDIC accounts typically have higher credit ratings, which is why, in 2011, Bank of America moved derivatives from its Merrill Lynch subsidiary, which had just suffered a downgrade, into its FDIC-insured subsidiary, much to the chagrin of the FDIC.

As Peter Eavis writes in The New York Times, this directly helps Citigroup, who lobbied for and wrote the change, as they own a lot of CDS: “With some $3 trillion of exposure, the bank is one of biggest default swap dealers in the United States. Those swaps right now live inside an entity called Citibank N.A. that enjoys federal deposit insurance. Nearly $2 trillion of those swaps are based on companies or other entities with a junk credit rating.”

And as Eavis points out, it’s very likely that a huge portion of Citigroup’s CDS are uncleared, as very few CDS overall are cleared: “Only about 10 percent of such swaps are centrally cleared, according to official surveys.”

Banks keeping derivatives in the FDIC accounts lower their cost of doing business, due to the market perception of an implicit government support. It should not be the role of policy to artificially lower the cost of bank borrowing, and as such we find the case for removing the Lincoln Amendment to be unconvincing.

Mike Konczal is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

Alexis Goldstein is a former Wall Street professional, who now serves as the Communications Director at Other98.org.

Caitlin Kline is a derivatives specialist at Better Markets.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

A wide variety of people, ranging from Senators Elizabeth Warren and David Vitter to Representative Maxine Waters and FDIC’s Thomas Hoenig, are trying to stop a last-minute attempt to remove an important piece of financial reform. They are all speaking up against a move to repeal the Lincoln Amendment using language written by Citigroup in the year-end budget process.

Given the wide variety of people against it, it’s interesting how few people are for it. One of the few institutions that has defended it is the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), whose Financial Regulatory Reform Initiative released a statement saying:

“The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act is consistent with BPC’s recommendations to repeal the Lincoln Amendment and to substantially increase funding for the SEC and CFTC.”

These recommendations they cite date back to a 2013 paper, “Better Path Forward on the Volcker Rule and the Lincoln Amendment,” that included arguments against pushing out swaps.

What’s their case, and does it hold up under scrutiny? We argue it does not. It misreads the purpose and scope of the Volcker Rule, disregards their own analysis on how financial reform should proceed, misses recent developments in the derivatives market, and ignores the issue of what an implicit government support means for exotic derivatives.

As a reminder, the Lincoln Amendment pushing out swaps (which we’ll refer to as 716) insists that the largest banks hold their exotic, customized, and non-cleared derivatives outside of their FDIC-insured entities in separately capitalized subsidiaries. 716 exempted most standardized derivatives, including interest rate and foreign exchange swaps, as well as cleared credit default swaps (CDS). This provision only applies to the odd and dangerous stuff.

So what are BPC's arguments?

716 and Volcker Accomplish Different Goals

Their core argument is that 716 is redundant, and therefore unnecessary, because of the Volcker Rule.  As they put it,“[L]ike the Volcker Rule, the Lincoln Amendment was intended to separate certain securities-related activities from traditional banking activities.” BPC further argues that with a “proper implementation of the Volcker Rule… the rationale for the Lincoln Amendment may no longer apply.”

This is not the case. The Volcker Rule is about risky activities, and focuses on eliminating the gambling risks associated with proprietary trading and exposure to certain types of investment funds. 716, on the other hand, is about risky products, and aims to reduce risk to the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) by utilizing separately capitalized entities for the riskiest derivatives.

While there is some overlap between the two, there are significant gaps. For instance, exemptions in the Volcker Rule allow some of the riskiest trades to be done within FDIC-insured entities -- things like making markets in bespoke, exotic, uncleared credit default swaps. Indeed, walking away from the financial crisis with an attitude that uncleared credit default swaps are no big issue is quite troubling. This puts the Deposit Insurance Fund at risk. 

716 complements Volcker by forcing the riskiest and most non-vanilla derivatives and CDS into a separately capitalized entity, something Volcker doesn’t do by itself. This helps protect the DIF in case a firm gets into trouble market-making bespoke trades that can’t be perfectly hedged – a Volcker-compliant activity. 

The Final Volcker Rule Isn’t Fully Implemented

Shockingly, BPC is violating its own analysis with this recommendation. In the 2013 paper, BPC “recommends a wait-and-see approach regarding the Lincoln Amendment until more experience can be gained from the Volcker Rule.” Only then, if the full implementation of the Volcker Rule is working well, could the Lincoln Amendment “be repealed without any negative effect.”

It is disturbing that the BPC supports this removal of the Lincoln Amendment before the Volcker Rule is fully implemented in mid-2015, and even before we've had time to see how it impacts the financial markets. It’s not even clear how they are judging whether the Volcker Rule is working the way they want, given that the data and metrics they rely on so heavily have only just begun to be reported to regulators, and are non-public.

Shoving a bank-written addition into a budget bill, not unlike the CFMA of 2000 which helped create the crisis, is the exact opposite of a “wait-and-see approach.”

Pushout Doesn’t Harm Bank Resolution

Another argument made against 716 was that it would complicate the ability of regulators to deal with a bank failure. BPC points out that regulators are empowered to grant a temporary stay to derivatives, preventing derivative creditors from grabbing collateral while others wait two days, as they did with Lehman Brothers. (Under bankruptcy, derivatives are exempt from this temporary stay, which can complicate and accelerate bankruptcy.)

Part of the argument is true: Dodd-Frank did grant the FDIC new powers under the Orderly Liquidation Authority, which allows them to force a 24-hour stay on derivatives (overriding the exemption), but this only applies to banks under FDIC purview.

BPC argued that the largest banks should be allowed to keep derivatives inside the FDIC accounts, so that they could utilize the FDIC’s OLA power. BPC writes that the 716 “subsidiaries would not enjoy the temporary stay on the unwinding of contracts that applies to banks under FDIC resolution procedures. Rapid termination of such contracts in the event of a bank failure would have a disruptive impact on financial markets."

But this argument is much less valid than it was when it was written, precisely because regulators are anticipating this problem. Eighteen of the major banks and the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) agreed in October that they’d contractually apply temporary stays to derivatives. With wide agreement among the banks to apply temporary stays anyway, the proper course of action is to work through this process of standardizing derivatives for automatic stays across the financial sector, rather than trying to use taxpayer funds to backstop them.

Apart from the BPC arguments, we wish to raise an additional point:  

Should Policy Allow Firms to Capitalize on Market-Perceived Subsidies?

Keeping derivatives in FDIC-insured entities lowers their costs: creditors charge lower rates, as FDIC accounts are seen as having the backing of the federal government. And these FDIC accounts typically have higher credit ratings, which is why, in 2011, Bank of America moved derivatives from its Merrill Lynch subsidiary, which had just suffered a downgrade, into its FDIC-insured subsidiary, much to the chagrin of the FDIC.

As Peter Eavis writes in The New York Times, this directly helps Citigroup, who lobbied for and wrote the change, as they own a lot of CDS: “With some $3 trillion of exposure, the bank is one of biggest default swap dealers in the United States. Those swaps right now live inside an entity called Citibank N.A. that enjoys federal deposit insurance. Nearly $2 trillion of those swaps are based on companies or other entities with a junk credit rating.”

And as Eavis points out, it’s very likely that a huge portion of Citigroup’s CDS are uncleared, as very few CDS overall are cleared: “Only about 10 percent of such swaps are centrally cleared, according to official surveys.”

Banks keeping derivatives in the FDIC accounts lower their cost of doing business, due to the market perception of an implicit government support. It should not be the role of policy to artificially lower the cost of bank borrowing, and as such we find the case for removing the Lincoln Amendment to be unconvincing.

Mike Konczal is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

Alexis Goldstein is a former Wall Street professional, who now serves as the Communications Director at Other98.org.

Caitlin Kline is a derivatives specialist at Better Markets.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

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Daily Digest - December 11: We Don't Need Weakened Financial Regulations in the Spending Bill

Dec 11, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Democrats Revolt Against 'Wall Street Giveaway' In Deal To Prevent Government Shutdown (HuffPo)

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Democrats Revolt Against 'Wall Street Giveaway' In Deal To Prevent Government Shutdown (HuffPo)

Zach Carter and Sabrina Siddiqui quote Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz on why a provision that will bring risky derivative trades under FDIC protection is a disaster.

Warren Leads Liberal Democrats’ Rebellion Over Provisions in $1 Trillion Spending Bill (WaPo)

Senator Warren is calling on House Democrats to withhold support of the spending bill unless this derivatives provision is removed, report Lori Montgomery and Sean Sullivan.

Congress' Backroom Pension-Cutting Deal is Even Worse Than Expected (LA Times)

Michael Hiltzik details the pension-cutting measure attached to the omnibus spending bill, which he says has far fewer protections for older retirees than originally implied.

The Wall Street Takeover of Charity (ProPublica)

Donor-advised charitable funds, which are run by financial firms, aren't increasing charitable giving as much as they're making money for the firms, writes Jesse Eisinger.

Walmart Illegally Punished Workers, Judge Rules (NYT)

Steven Greenhouse reports on a National Labor Relations Board decision in California, which found that Walmart managers had illegally intimidated workers for supporting unionizing efforts.

The Economic Threat to Cities Isn't Gentrification; It's the Opposite (Vox)

With gentrification comes a higher concentration of poverty, writes Danielle Kurtzleben, and increased economic segregation comes with less economic mobility.

New on Next New Deal

The Financial Regulation Congress Is Quietly Trying to Destroy in the Budget

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal explains why Section 716 of Dodd-Frank was implemented in the first place, and why weakening it today would put the economy and taxpayers at risk.

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The Financial Regulation Congress Is Quietly Trying to Destroy in the Budget

Dec 10, 2014Mike Konczal

There are concerns that the budget bill under debate in Congress will eliminate Section 716 of Dodd-Frank, using language previously drafted by Citigroup. So what is this all about?

Section 716 of Dodd-Frank says that institutions that receive federal insurance through FDIC and the Federal Reserve can’t be dealers in the specialized derivatives market. Banks must instead “push out” these dealers into separate subsidiaries with their own capital that don’t benefit from the government backstop. They can still trade in many standardized derivatives and hedge their own risks, however. This was done because having banks act as exotic swap dealers put taxpayers at risk in the event of a sudden collapse. That’s it.

Why would you want a regulation like this? The first is that it acts as a complement to the Volcker Rule. As Americans for Financial Reform notes, the Volcker Rule allows banks to make markets in derivatives. What 716 does is regulate the most exotic and custom derivatives, like the custom credit default swaps that generated the financial crisis of 2008. These derivatives are the most difficult part for the Volcker Rule to manage, so 716 adds a crucial second layer of protection.

A second reason is 716 will also prevent exotic derivatives from being subsidized by the government’s safety net. As the Roosevelt Institute’s Rob Johnson notes, removing this language would “extend guarantees to complex derivatives within banks, which in turn will subsidize and encourage their overuse.” We should be finding a balance for the derivatives market, not expanding it.

The third reason is for the sake of financial stability. The major banks have been unable to produce credible living wills describing how they can go through bankruptcy without tearing down the system. There is no world in which these banks will be closer to achieving this crucial goal by cramming themselves full of even more exotic types of derivatives.

Pushing out these risky derivatives enables the financial sector to focus more on its core job. As Roosevelt’s Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz wrote in favor of 716, “[b]y quarantining highly risky swaps trading from banking altogether, federally insured deposits (and our basic payments mechanism) will not be put at risk by toxic swaps transactions. Moreover, banks will be forced to behave like banks, focusing on extending credit in a manner that builds economic strength as opposed to fostering worldwide economic instability.”

Stiglitz reiterated this point today, saying “Section 716 facilitates the ability of markets to provide the kind of discipline without which a market economy cannot effectively function. I was concerned in 2010 that Congress would weaken 716, but what is proposed now is worse than anything contemplated back then.”

Now many on Wall Street would argue that this rule is unnecessary. However, their arguments are not persuasive.

They might argue that many people opposed this bill at the time it was proposed, and indeed it was the source of great controversy. But what they overlook is that there was already a wave of compromise on this provision during the drafting Dodd-Frank. 716 focuses mainly on a subset of risky and exotic derivatives. Under the final law, banks can still hold most types of standardized and common derivatives, like ones for interest rates. This is the vast majority of the market. Banks can also hold derivatives that they use to mitigate their own risk. There was significant debate in 2010 over how this regulation should play out, and the final language reflects this compromise.

They might also argue that the financial sector is taking care of this issue on its own. But instead of being moved out, derivatives are being moved into backstopped banks. As the former FDIC chairperson Sheila Bair notes, the “trend has been to move this activity from the investment banking affiliates, which do not use insured deposits, into the banks where the activity can be funded with cheap, FDIC backed deposits. Section 716 would at least keep certain credit default swaps outside of insured banks.”

The question of how we should regulate derivatives and the financial markets more broadly has not been settled. There’s still an ongoing debate over how derivatives will be regulated across borders. And as noted, banks are still unable to produce credible living wills to survive a bankruptcy court. It’s for reasons like this that a wide variety of people who didn’t support the initial language of 716 now oppose removing 716: Timothy GeithnerJack LewSheila BairBarney Frank, and more.

We should be strengthening, not weakening, financial reform. And removing this piece of the law will not benefit this project.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

There are concerns that the budget bill under debate in Congress will eliminate Section 716 of Dodd-Frank, using language previously drafted by Citigroup. So what is this all about?

Section 716 of Dodd-Frank says that institutions that receive federal insurance through FDIC and the Federal Reserve can’t be dealers in the specialized derivatives market. Banks must instead “push out” these dealers into separate subsidiaries with their own capital that don’t benefit from the government backstop. They can still trade in many standardized derivatives and hedge their own risks, however. This was done because having banks act as exotic swap dealers put taxpayers at risk in the event of a sudden collapse. That’s it.

Why would you want a regulation like this? The first is that it acts as a complement to the Volcker Rule. As Americans for Financial Reform notes, the Volcker Rule allows banks to make markets in derivatives. What 716 does is regulate the most exotic and custom derivatives, like the custom credit default swaps that generated the financial crisis of 2008. These derivatives are the most difficult part for the Volcker Rule to manage, so 716 adds a crucial second layer of protection.

A second reason is 716 will also prevent exotic derivatives from being subsidized by the government’s safety net. As the Roosevelt Institute’s Rob Johnson notes, removing this language would “extend guarantees to complex derivatives within banks, which in turn will subsidize and encourage their overuse.” We should be finding a balance for the derivatives market, not expanding it.

The third reason is for the sake of financial stability. The major banks have been unable to produce credible living wills describing how they can go through bankruptcy without tearing down the system. There is no world in which these banks will be closer to achieving this crucial goal by cramming themselves full of even more exotic types of derivatives.

Pushing out these risky derivatives enables the financial sector to focus more on its core job. As Roosevelt’s Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz wrote in favor of 716, “[b]y quarantining highly risky swaps trading from banking altogether, federally insured deposits (and our basic payments mechanism) will not be put at risk by toxic swaps transactions. Moreover, banks will be forced to behave like banks, focusing on extending credit in a manner that builds economic strength as opposed to fostering worldwide economic instability.”

Stiglitz reiterated this point today, saying “Section 716 facilitates the ability of markets to provide the kind of discipline without which a market economy cannot effectively function. I was concerned in 2010 that Congress would weaken 716, but what is proposed now is worse than anything contemplated back then.”

Now many on Wall Street would argue that this rule is unnecessary. However, their arguments are not persuasive.

They might argue that many people opposed this bill at the time it was proposed, and indeed it was the source of great controversy. But what they overlook is that there was already a wave of compromise on this provision during the drafting Dodd-Frank. 716 focuses mainly on a subset of risky and exotic derivatives. Under the final law, banks can still hold most types of standardized and common derivatives, like ones for interest rates. This is the vast majority of the market. Banks can also hold derivatives that they use to mitigate their own risk. There was significant debate in 2010 over how this regulation should play out, and the final language reflects this compromise.

They might also argue that the financial sector is taking care of this issue on its own. But instead of being moved out, derivatives are being moved into backstopped banks. As the former FDIC chairperson Sheila Bair notes, the “trend has been to move this activity from the investment banking affiliates, which do not use insured deposits, into the banks where the activity can be funded with cheap, FDIC backed deposits. Section 716 would at least keep certain credit default swaps outside of insured banks.”

The question of how we should regulate derivatives and the financial markets more broadly has not been settled. There’s still an ongoing debate over how derivatives will be regulated across borders. And as noted, banks are still unable to produce credible living wills to survive a bankruptcy court. It’s for reasons like this that a wide variety of people who didn’t support the initial language of 716 now oppose removing 716: Timothy GeithnerJack LewSheila BairBarney Frank, and more.

We should be strengthening, not weakening, financial reform. And removing this piece of the law will not benefit this project.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

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Daily Digest - December 10: Young People Want Political Engagement Across the Calendar

Dec 10, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Millennials Need to Turnout Every Day, Not Just Election Day (Huffington Post)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Millennials Need to Turnout Every Day, Not Just Election Day (Huffington Post)

Joelle Gamble, National Director of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, argues that young people want to be asked not just to show up to the polls, but to be engaged in the political process year-round.

New York's Signature College Aid Program Turns 40, But Falls Short of Meeting Needs (Gotham Gazette)

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Leadership Director Kevin Stump proposes ways to update New York State's Tuition Assistance Program, which he argues is woefully out of date after 40 years.

Elizabeth Warren's Latest Wall Street Attack Was Her Boldest Yet (TNR)

David Dayen reports on Senator Warren's speech at yesterday's "Managing the Economy" conference, co-sponsored by the Roosevelt Institute. The senator directly attacked Wall Street's influence on financial policy.

Workers at Amazon Warehouses Won't Get Paid for Waiting in Security Lines (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Josh Eidelson reports on the Supreme Court's decision in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. vs. Busk. The Court held that workers do not have to be paid for time spent waiting for security checks.

Congressional Leaders Hammer Out Deal to Allow Pension Plans to Cut Retiree Benefits (WaPo)

Michael A. Fletcher says retirees on the plans that will be permitted to make unprecedented cuts feel betrayed by this speedy congressional decision.

How Income Inequality Holds Back Economic Growth (AJAM)

A new report examines the significant link between income inequality and slowed economic growth, which cost the U.S. as much as 7 percent of GDP from 1990 to 2010, writes Ned Resnikoff.

New on Next New Deal

Let the Fed Lend Directly to Cities and States to Save Taxpayers Billions

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Saqib Bhatti suggests that allowing the Fed to make long-term loans to municipalities would protect cities from economic crises and promote fair and sustainable development.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 66: How Do We Make the Promise a Reality?

Ariel Smilowitz, Northeast Regional Policy Coordinator for the Campus Network, and Monika Johnson, a member of the Alumni Advisory Committee, call for an expanded approach to human rights, including non-state actors like corporations accepting responsibility.

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Daily Digest - December 8: What Changes When China is the Largest Economy?

Dec 8, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

The Chinese Century (Vanity Fair)

Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz considers the implications of China becoming the world's largest economy, particularly as the U.S. system perpetuates so much inequality.

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

The Chinese Century (Vanity Fair)

Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz considers the implications of China becoming the world's largest economy, particularly as the U.S. system perpetuates so much inequality.

U.S. Jobs Report Beats Forecasts as 321,000 Positions Added in November (The Guardian)

Heidi Moore looks at the November jobs report, which surprised many economists with its strength. She emphasizes that many of the jobs created are low-wage.

Even at 321,000 Jobs a Month, It Will Be Nearly Two Years Before the Economy Looks Like 2007 (Working Economics)

Charting out scenarios for catching up with the jobs shortfall, Elise Gould points out that even a "good" jobs report like this one isn't indicative of a speedy recovery.

Recovery at Last? (NYT)

Paul Krugman considers what recent positive economic news means for our understanding of this recession. He thinks it's proof that government paralysis slowed the recovery.

Wall Street to Workers: Give Us Your Retirement Savings and Stop Asking Questions (In These Times)

David Sirota looks at current cases in which public officials have refused to release information about the fees paid to investment firms by public pension funds.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Fellow Saqib Bhatti explains how predatory municipal finance deals are harming taxpayers in his recent report.

Labor's New Reality -- It's Easier to Raise Wages for 100,000 Than to Unionize 4,000 (LA Times)

Harold Meyerson looks at the labor movement's shift toward focusing on issues that impact many workers who are not members, a project in which Los Angeles is at the center.

Elizabeth Warren Doesn't Like This Treasury Nominee. Here's Why. (Mother Jones)

Erika Eichelberger explains Senator Warren's opposition to Antonio Weiss's nomination, which is based on his lack of experience in banking regulation and coziness with the financial sector.

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Daily Digest - November 25: Wall Street's Deals Hit Every Taxpayer

Nov 25, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Wall Street’s Taxpayer Scam: How Local Governments Get Fleeced — and So Do You (Salon)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Wall Street’s Taxpayer Scam: How Local Governments Get Fleeced — and So Do You (Salon)

Elias Isquith interviews Roosevelt Institute Fellow Saqib Bhatti about his new report on how governments can push back against Wall Street's predatory deals.

Food Pantries Stretched to Breaking Point by Food Stamp Cuts (AJAM)

Ned Resnikoff reports on the crisis facing food pantries in NYC, where one-third of food banks and soup kitchens had to turn people away in September.

Corporate America Is Using the Sharing Economy to Turn Us Into Temps (TNR)

Noam Scheiber says the sharing economy's expansion into temp work is part of a trend of workforce restructuring from hiring staff for peak loads to hiring the absolute minimum.

This Is the Next Big Fight Between Progressives and the Wall Street Dems (The Nation)

Senator Warren and others are protesting the nomination of Antonio Weiss to a major role in Treasury, citing his work on tax-avoiding practices like corporate inversions, writes Zoë Carpenter.

Let Old Labor Die (In These Times)

Jeremy Gantz reviews Tom Geoghegan's new book, which prescribes new models of labor organizing that are more democratic, outside of the bounds of the National Labor Relations Board.

New on Next New Deal

Artisanal Millennials and the Resurrection of Free Labor Ideology

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Economic Development Brit Byrd says growing preferences for artisanal products cannot be allowed to erase the importance of wage labor in our economy.

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