Regulation Czar’s Net Effect

by Chidem Kurdas

Cass Sunstein, the White House regulatory affairs chief, is going back to academia.  It is not clear why he chose this particular time to return to Harvard Law School, leaving behind what looked like an experiment to implement the notions he advocated.

Has he made a difference as federal overseer of rulemaking? The record is at best mixed, at worst a prime example of how academic ideas can enable political hypocrisy. Continue reading

Bank Hedges and Social Justice

by  Chidem Kurdas

To hedge or not to hedge? That’s the question for many an endeavor. Farmers hedge by selling their harvest ahead of time. Building managers hedge by locking in a price for heating oil or natural gas—last year many got it wrong, blindsided by the decline in the price of gas. Most hedges we don’t hear much about.

Until last week, the most infamous hedge was the set of complex trades put on by Goldman Sachs as protection against losses in mortgage securities in the property bust. Financially this worked and Goldman Sachs escaped the 2008 crisis relatively unscathed. Thereupon it became an object of loathing and mockery in the media, inspiring calls for higher taxes and greater regulation.

Now we have the failed trades with resultant loss of $2-$3 billion at JP Morgan Chase. This also inspired calls for greater regulation, in particular of bank trading, which appears to be offensive whether it makes money or loses money. Continue reading

Should Banks Just Buy Treasuries?

by Chidem Kurdas

There’s a widespread impression that the $2 billion-plus trading loss JP Morgan Chase announced a few days ago strengthens the case for more regulation of banks.  Below  Jerry O’ Driscoll makes this argument more thoughtfully than I’ve seen any where else.

Two basic facts are worth remembering.

Fact number one is that in 2010 Congress passed the gigantic Dodd-Frank financial regulation law, which is being translated to thousands of specific rules by coteries of government bureaucrats. The Volcker rule against bank proprietary trading is the least of it. There are numerous new rules. None of these could have prevented the JP Morgan loss or even moderated it, as best I can tell. Continue reading

Big Bank Breakup or Tea Party?

by Chidem Kurdas

We’ve been going back and forth on the economics of too-big-to-fail banks but paying less attention to the politics. The most recent ThinkMarkets broadside on banks is Jerry O’Driscoll’s post on the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas annual report.

In part of the report, the Dallas Fed’s director of research Harvey Rosenblum argues that the new Dodd-Frank regulations are insufficient to deal with the threat posed by too-big-to-fail banks and therefore these need to be broken into smaller entities. He and the bank’s president, Richard Fisher, made a similar point in a Wall Street Journal column.  Some other Fed officials have espoused the position as well.  Continue reading

President Obama’s State of Regulation

by Chidem Kurdas

Barack Obama sounded a number of themes in his 2012 State of the Union Address this week, all underpinned by the proposition that socioeconomic ills can be solved by interventionist government in general and his administration in particular.

Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, giving the Republican rebuttal, effectively replied to the main claims. He pointed to the failure of  the President’s “grand experiment in trickle-down government.” Programs spend borrowed money in attempts to boost the middle class. “In fact, it works the other way: a government as big and bossy as this one is maintained on the backs of the middle class,” Mr. Daniels said.

Mr. Obama’s points about regulation drew less attention. Continue reading

Menace to Savings and Small Businesses

by Chidem Kurdas

As the old adage goes, be careful what you ask for, you might just get it. After the 2008 crisis it became fashionable to complain that too much trading is going on. There were calls in this and other countries to restrict financial transactions. And it happened. One example is the rule named after Paul Volcker in the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, banning depository banks’ trading on their own accounts (and also forbidding them from holding significant hedge fund or private equity interests).

Regulators are still in the process of determining how to implement the Volcker rule but the potential impact is already discernible. Likely victims include millions of Americans who save for their retirement and smaller companies that need to borrow money. Continue reading

Financial Crisis from Lehman to Europe

by Chidem Kurdas

The current financial crisis is a reverse of the 2008 disaster in key respects. Then, investment banks were seen as the main culprits while governments appeared in the guise of cavalry riding to the rescue. The trouble originated in the United States and spread to Europe. This time, the culprits are certain governments, the problem is European and how badly it will affect the American financial system is a question. How did the crisis go from US-based mortgage securities and Lehman Brothers to Italian sovereign debt and French banks?  Continue reading