Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cooley on financial market regulation

Scary piece by NYU Stern School dean Thomas Cooley in Forbes today about the prospects for genuine changes in regulation of financial markets. Cooley points out that the draft bills in both the House and Senate exempt large portions of the financial sector from the proposed new regulations on consumer protection.
What are the major financial decisions made by households? The purchase of durables like automobiles and appliances, the purchase of homes and retirement planning. But the house bill H.R. 3126 exempts financing provided by automobile dealers, any person regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, any person regulated by a state insurance regulator, smaller banks and credit unions (those with $10 billion or less in assets), mortgage, title, credit insurance, real estate brokers and agents, attorneys and most retail transactions involving credit. The Senate proposal has fewer carve-outs but does exclude small banks and credit unions, merchants, retailers and other non-financial institutions that extend credit to consumers. So who is left to regulate?
Another area to watch is whether the final versions of the bill will allow the federal government the ability to break up the largest financial services companies into smaller components. Normally I am a free market sort, but as long as there is an implicit contract that the government will continue to bail out failed firms, there needs to be some mechanism to cap the liability.
What they fear more than anything else is losing access to the tremendous money pump they have at present. The large complex financial institutions, in case you haven’t noticed, are making money hand over fist. They are greatly enabled this by the fact that they have a very low cost of funds. Why? Because they have unpriced too-big-to-fail guarantees and access to the Fed. This means taxpayers are underwriting the low internal cost of funds that these firms have. They can turn around and invest these in their own proprietary trading, hedge funds and asset management businesses--things they're afraid of losing.

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