Tag Archives: financial reform

Let the US Fiduciary Rule Go Ahead

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The quantity of financial regulation is not quite as important as the quality.  One must get the details right.  The case of the US “fiduciary rule” strongly suggests that President Trump will not get the details right.

Could Dodd-Frank be improved?

Earlier this month, amid the flurry of tweets and other executive orders, the new occupant of the White House issued an executive order directing a comprehensive rethinking of the Dodd-Frank financial reform of 2010.

One can imagine various ways to improve the current legislation.   The most straightforward would be to restore many of the worthwhile features of the original plan that Republicans have undermined or negated over the last seven years.  (Most recently, the House this month voted to repeal a Dodd-Frank provision called “Publish What You Pay,” designed to discourage oil and mining companies from paying bribes abroad.  Score one for the natural resource curse.)

In theory, one might also attempt the difficult and delicate task of modifying, for example, the Volcker Rule, so as to improve the efficiency tradeoff between compliance costs for banks and other financial institutions, on the one hand, and the danger of instability in the system, on the other hand.  Some in the business community are acting as if they believe that Trump will get this tradeoff right.  I see no grounds whatsoever for thinking so.

In particular, the financial system has been strengthened substantially by such features of Dodd-Frank as higher capital requirements for banks, the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the designation of Systemically Important Financial Institutions, tough stress tests on banks, and enhanced transparency for derivatives.  If these features were undermined or reversed, it would raise the odds of a damaging repeat of the 2007-08 financial crisis down the road.

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The Dodd Bill: CoCo’s? Fine; Hobble the Fed? Don’t Do It.

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The National Journal asks views on a recent proposal for financial reform:   
“The Dodd bill on financial regulatory reform embraces a supposed solution to the ‘Too Big To Fail’ conundrum: Contingent Convertible Bonds, or CoCos, which turn into equity once a bank’s capital falls below a certain level.    

My response:

I do think that measures such as the Contingent Convertible Bonds would be a useful step.  Some argue that it would be hard to know when to invoke the contingency clause.  It strikes me that this argument largely vanishes when one realizes that the clause would of necessity be invoked by the time we got to the stage of a Bear Stearns or Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. CoCos would not go very far in themselves toward comprehensive reform of the financial system, if that is the goal.  But then no single policy measure would do that.  I agree with Gillian Tett: “In theory, I think that CoCos certainly could be a useful additional to banks’ tool kits. However, in practice, the contagion risk suggests it would be dangerous to rely too heavily on an exclusive diet of CoCos for any policy ‘fix’.” 

 

Two related issues are of much bigger import.   First, is it a feasible goal to eliminate, credibly, the problem “too big to fail” or “too interconnected to fail,” thereby eliminating the critical moral hazard problem?  My suspicion is that this is not an achievable goal, when push comes to shove, ex post, in a crisis; and if I am right, then it is very important that we don’t return to the rhetoric of claiming “no bank is automatically too big to fail” and so fail to regulate and collect insurance from the banks ex ante.   This would just exacerbate the moral hazard problem.   Commercial banks are like river banks  in this respect.

 

Second, would the legislation that is offered by Senator Chris Dodd be a better approach to financial reform than alternative proposals, or even than the status quo?     While the 1,000+ page Dodd bill undoubtedly has some good things in it (the principle of a Consumer Protection Agency in lending is probably at the top of the list), I believe it would be very damaging overall. The major reason is that it would seriously undermine the power of the Fed to set fully-informed monetary policy in normal times and to respond effectively in times of crisis.  It seems that Barney Frank understands these things much better. 

 

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