Posts Tagged ‘credit rating agencies’

Financial reform bill: Better than nothing

22 May 2010

This week the Senate passed a financial reform bill that’s at least a bit tougher than looked possible a couple weeks ago.  Paul Krugman has a concise rundown on it right here:

“What’s good? Resolution authority, which was sorely lacking last year; consumer protection; derivatives traded through clearinghouses; ratings reform, thanks to Al Franken; tighter capital standards for big players, although with too much discretion to regulators.

“What’s missing? Hard leverage limits; size caps; not much in the way of restoring Glass-Steagall. If you think that too big to fail is the core problem, it’s disappointing; if you think that shadow banking is the core, as I do, not too bad.”

Dean Baker has some additional words here on Al Franken’s credit-rating-agencies reform amendment, which would eliminate the huge grades-for-sale conflict of interest of having companies being rated pay the rating agency for their work.  Instead, the Securities and Exchange Commission will assign the rating agency for each new securities issue.

The Senate bill also includes a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which will be technically independent, as reformers had been pushing for and industry had been furiously opposing.  However, the agency will be housed within the Federal Reserve, which reformers had opposed because of the Fed’s dismal track record on consumer protection over the past decade.  Supposedly the agency will not have to answer to the Fed’s leadership, but we’ll have to see how that works out in practice.  I have not yet seen any word on whether the fabulous Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard Law professor who had been advocating for this agency, would still be interested in heading it.

All told, the bill still leaves much to be desired — Simon Johnson and James Kwak at The Baseline Scenario decry its lack of hard capital requirements or bank size restrictions — but looks a whole lot better than nothing:

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Well, it’s a start

16 July 2009

Two of the most odious contributors to the financial crisis were the government’s too-big-to-fail policy and the brazenness of many financial institutions, including the credit rating agencies, in helping to disguise and then market so many garbage securities.  So two of this week’s developments look like good news, however small:

(1) The federal government refused a second bailout for The CIT Group. (You can read about their first bailout, last December for $2.3 billion, here.)  CIT is expected to file for bankruptcy, which isn’t great news, as CIT is the largest lender to small businesses and some of that lending may stop, and as the government/taxpayers’ $2.3 billion stake gets wiped out. But it may be the lesser of two evils.  As the WSJ points out, CIT is only one-tenth the size of Lehman Brothers,and the systemic risk in refusing this request seems much less than the moral hazard risk of granting it.  (I must admit, the WSJ does seem to have the best conservative editorial page in the business. Not that that’s my highest compliment.)

(2) Calpers, the largest pension fund in California, is suing the three leading credit rating agencies for providing “wildly inaccurate” AAA ratings of structured investment vehicles (SIVs) of various dodgy assets including subprime mortage-backed securities. The amount of the suit wasn’t disclosed, but Calpers bought $1.3 billion of bad SIVs in 2006, so that’s a good lower-bound estimate. While market discipline would be preferable to billion-dollar lawsuits, that horse escaped from the barn a long time ago. This is the first I’ve heard of anyone holding these agencies accountable.