Friday, May 21, 2010

The "Sound and Fury" of Banking Reform

Well, the Senate finally passed a banking reform bill. It is said that President Obama wants to sign the final bill around July 4.

All I can really say about the bill is that it represents a lot of “sound and fury signifying nothing.”

The bill will be costly. The bill will result in a lot of inconvenience.

But, banking and finance will recover and will continue on their merry old way!

The reason that I say this is that finance is just information and with the accelerating pace of information technology in the United States and the world, finance will continue to expand and prosper. The regulators cannot control how information is used or transformed!

History has shown that information spreads and although the pace of its spread can be slowed down, it has never been stopped. Just ask all the religious medievalists in our world today that are fighting a losing battle and are defensively striking out at everyone else.

I have stated some of the reasons for my position in a series of posts beginning January 25, 2010: see “Financial Regulation in the Information Age”;

I have also highlighted the place of information in the practice of modern finance in my review of the book “The Quants”: see

Furthermore, attempts to reform and re-regulate the banking system will ultimately do more damage to banks that are not among the 25 largest banks in the country than it will do to those banks that the administration and Congress are really after. And remember, the largest 25 domestically chartered commercial banks in the United States control about two-thirds of the banking assets in the country.

Another factor that I have tried to stress over the past year is that the largest banks have already moved on. The legislation in front of the Congress is aimed at preventing the last financial crisis from occurring again. In my estimation, the largest banks are beyond this feeble effort and are moving into areas we will learn about in the next round of “popular” books explaining what has happened to our financial system.

An example of this was a recent report in the press about how Congress is trying to alter the status of how hedge funds reward their managements so that more of this income is taxable. The response of the industry was to have already hired scores of lawyers to “get around” any legislation about hedge fund fees.

Can you imagine any other kind of response from the financial industry…or, for that matter, any industry?

Reform and re-regulation face a moving target and, consequently, they are aiming their efforts at the past, not the future.

The financial reform package will change the playing field for a limited amount of time. However, in this age of information you can bet that the lag between what “the Feds” do now and how the financial system reacts to these actions will be shorter than ever before.

NOTE: we now have 775 commercial banks on the list of “problem banks” put out by the FDIC, up from 702 banks at the end of 2009. When this latter list was presented, I argued that the FDIC would close between three and four banks a week for the next 12 to 18 months. We have been averaging 3.8 banks closed every week this year through May 14. Using a rough “rule of thumb” my estimate now is that at least four banks will be closed every week through the end of 2011.

I still have grave concerns about the solvency of the 8,000 “smaller banks” in the United States. I define the “smaller banks” as any bank below the top 25 largest banks in the country. These 8,000 “smaller banks” control only one-third of bank assets in the United States. I derive this concern from the actions of the Federal Reserve who continues to subsidize the banking system with extremely low interest rates, and the FDIC. Although the Fed and the FDIC are not “owning up” to this problem, everything they are doing raises questions about how solvent these smaller 8,000 banks really are. I guess the big issue concerns what would happen to the value of bank assets IF interest rates were to rise. Would this result in a “cascade” of “small” bank failures?

1 comment:

Efi - Έφη said...

Financial engineering and structuring will take care of all this.
We will be seeing a new generation of "circumventing" products-structures.
Such regulation increase the costs of doing business but cannot stop business.
I totally agree with your view-analysis