Published Opeds on Financial Reform: March 2011 Archives

No need to fear the shadows

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by Roy C. Smith

With the big banks under the boot of the regulators, tucked up with tougher capital ratios, trading restrictions and deferred incentives to rein in recklessness, some bank chief executives and academics have called for similar restrictions on the "non-bank monsters" of the shadow banking system where dangerous, unregulated risks are said still to reside.

A shadow banker is anyone who participates in the lending of money or its near equivalent. These would include financial intermediaries, off-balance-sheet investment vehicles and hedge funds, as well as institutional asset managers.

Altogether, global institutional investors managed about $150 trillion of securities and derivatives in 2009, compared with about $95 trillion for all banks.

But the idea that the next meltdown will occur in the widely distributed shadow banking sector is nonsense, now that its riskier aspects have been addressed.

The five systemically important US non-bank intermediaries - investment banks - were dissolved by the crisis: Lehman Brothers failed, large banks acquired Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch, and Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs turned themselves into banks. The Federal Reserve now regulates them all.

Read the full opinion editorial on eFinancialNews.com.

by Jennifer Carpenter and Ingo Walter

Nothing about the financial crisis has done more to outrage the public and fuel reform than the drumbeat of bankers' pay announcements. Pay levels at Wall Street's top 25 banks reached a record high of $135bn last year, with employees' share of revenue rising to 32.5 per cent. While shareholders may have reason to object, the real concern for regulators and taxpayers on the hook for the next bail-out is not the level of pay, or how profits are divided between employees and shareholders, but rather the risk incentives that bank pay creates.

Reports of increased use of deferred compensation are cold comfort if it is in the form of stock, because as long as government guarantees are underpriced, the value of the stock increases with the bank's risk and leverage, so employees and shareholders are aligned in their incentives to ramp up risk. The Securities and Exchange Commission has just proposed to curb risk appetite by regulating bankers' compensation directly, requiring top executives at large banks to defer at least 50 per cent of incentive pay for three years. Regulators would do better to tackle the problem at its source, by setting deposit insurance premiums and taxes on other financial groups commensurate with the level of systemic risk they generate, and taking the risk appetite out of the equity itself.

Read the full opinion editorial in the Financial Times


Volcker May Get the Last Laugh

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by Roy C. Smith

The Dodd-Frank regulatory reform act in the US gives banks plenty of time to adjust to its Volcker Rule, the disallowance of proprietary trading.

The law itself provides them with lots of wiggle-room, with implementation left to the , which recently released a study it was required to make about the new rules.

Next, the FSOC will have to finalise the rules (expected in June) and circulate them for discussion and push-back from lobbyists. Then there will be a lengthy period allowed for the banks to put them into effect. It could all take years.

The FSOC study acknowledges that the distinction between "permissible" and "impermissible" trading may be difficult to make. Market-making, for example, is allowed under Dodd-Frank. This is defined by the banks as trading with or on behalf of clients.

The banks say there is no proprietary trading if any position held was acquired assisting a client. Also, virtually all trading today is financed in the market, through the repo or secured loan markets, so prop trading is hard to identify simply as being financed by a firm's own money.

Read the full opinion editorial on eFinancialNews.com.


About RegulatingWallStreet.com

The Dodd-Frank Act, signed into law in July 2010, represented the most significant and controversial overhaul of the U.S. financial regulatory system since the Great Depression. Forty NYU Stern faculty, including editors Viral V. Acharya, Thomas F. Cooley, Matthew P. Richardson, and Ingo Walter, provide a definitive analysis of the Act, expose key flaws and propose solutions to inform the rules’ adoption by regulators, in a new book, Regulating Wall Street: The Dodd-Frank Act and the New Architecture of Global Finance (Wiley, November 2010).

About Restoring Financial Stability

Previously, many of these faculty developed 18 independent policy papers offering market-focused solutions to the financial crisis, which were published in a book, Restoring Financial Stability: How to Repair a Failed System (Wiley, March 2009).

About the Authors