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Old 04-22-2010, 09:34 PM   #21
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Regarding short sales driving down prices--during the most recent "crisis" the government banned certain short sales.
But they never banned buying protection, which is the transaction at issue. And even if they tried, they couldn't ban buying protection without also banning selling protection (two sides of the same coin). And without any buying & selling of protection, there is no CDS market, thus no CDS market price, and therefore no "market trigger".

It won't work. It's a dumb idea that is designed to sound smart so that people have a reason to reject real reform.
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Old 04-22-2010, 09:37 PM   #22
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Far better to have well enforced laws that prevent the need for a bailout in the first place (capital requirements, transparency, rules that assure those making money from a transaction are the ones bearing the risks, attention to the bizarre incentives in place for rating agencies [including the enforced government monopoly they have], sentencing guidelines that help assure white-collar criminals get punishments comparable to other thieves, etc).
Sounds good to me!
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Old 04-23-2010, 05:58 AM   #23
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Far better to have well enforced laws that prevent the need for a bailout in the first place (capital requirements, transparency, rules that assure those making money from a transaction are the ones bearing the risks, attention to the bizarre incentives in place for rating agencies [including the enforced government monopoly they have], sentencing guidelines that help assure white-collar criminals get punishments comparable to other thieves, etc).
All of which (except sentencing guidelines) are in the Dodd bill.
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Old 04-23-2010, 06:14 AM   #24
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It seems to me that people are confusing bailing out the financial system (a.k.a. preventing a complete financial collapse of healthy and unhealthy companies alike) with bailing out individual companies. In 2008-2009 we needed to bailout individual companies to prevent a financial collapse because we had no alternative. The Dodd bill gives us that alternative.

One of the problems we're trying to address is how to prevent a run on the financial system. That is how do you prevent short-term creditors from fleeing the system and causing a wide spread liquidity crisis. In the banking system depositors have FDIC insurance. That has prevented bank runs on healthy firms for 80 years. There is no such insurance in the "shadow" banking system. And as we've found out recently, the shadow banking system is prone to runs just like the normal banking system.

During the recent crisis, the only solution available to prevent these runs from spreading was to stop entire firms from failing, bailing out the entire capital structure to stop the financial panic. That seems to have lead to this false premise that bailing out the financial system is the same thing as bailing out individual companies. But bailing out whole companies is overkill. In a panic you can allow an insolvent firm to fail. But you do have to protect its short-term creditors so that those creditors don't start pulling their money from every other company. In an AIG or Citigroup situation, you let the firm collapse and begin liquidation proceedings but make short-term creditors whole (possibly with taxpayer dollars if needed). But you allow the rest of the capital structure to absorb the losses. In normal times (absent a wide-spread financial panic) you can let short-term creditors take losses too.

This is almost exactly what happens in a bank failure. It's been proven to work. It's a system that created financial stability for 80 years. And it's what the Dodd bill tries to replicate.

When seen this way, the charge that the Dodd legislation is a "bailout bill" is shown to be the distortion that it is. A system that allows losses for long-term investors in every instance and short-term investors in all cases except during panics does not create a bunch of GSE. Its not even close. It does not extend implicit guarantees to anyone, accept to short-term investors and even then only on a contingent basis. It's hard to see how this perpetuates "moral hazard". In fact the opposite is true. Because without resolution authority, the only alternative to stopping future financial panics is to bailout entire companies, like we did last year. So in reality, it is those who oppose resolution authority that are perpetuating moral hazard and making future company bailouts more likely.

I guess the other alternative is to simply let the entire financial system collapse. We did that in the 1930's and the result was depression. That was also the status quo throughout the 1800's and the result was a financial panic and a depression nearly every decade. That is not a good alternative. But if people really want to go that route, they should step up and defend that system and explain how it could possibly be an improvement to government resolution authority.

I eagerly await the answer.
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Old 04-23-2010, 08:43 AM   #25
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All of which (except sentencing guidelines) are in the Dodd bill.
Good, then take out the "naughty bits" about bailing out creditors and pass the rest of it. It should be easy.
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Old 04-23-2010, 08:51 AM   #26
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Memo from USAA's CEO to its customers on financial reform:

https://www.usaa.com/inet/ent_blogs/...please_contact

Excerpt:

Quote:
The U.S. Senate currently is considering legislation (S.3217) that would impose new rules on the nation's financial services industry, including USAA.

As the leading provider of financial services to America's military community, USAA supports financial services reform.

However, the current Senate bill would disproportionally impact USAA because we are a unique and fully integrated association. USAA is not like the banks and other companies that helped bring down our economy, and we never took a penny of TARP funds. We do not engage in the harmful practices this legislation seeks to resolve.

If unchanged, the bill would:
  • Prevent USAA from managing the association's portfolio as we have for the past 87 years.
  • Jeopardize our ability to continue offering many of our competitive products.
  • Limit our ability to return money to our members. Last year, USAA returned $1.2 billion to our members in the form of distributions, dividends, and bank rebates and rewards.1
So, we are asking all USAA members and employees to urge their U.S. senators to amend a portion of the bill, known as the "Volcker Rule," to eliminate its effect on a company like USAA. Please know that this legislation does not impact individual member's investments.
Anyone understand the specific impact here?
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Old 04-23-2010, 09:24 AM   #27
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donheff - the summary looks pretty good. One thing that disappointments me though, is no mention of financial education for the public (maybe it is in the article?).

It isn't that tough to make sure that someone getting a loan understands the difference between adjustable and fixed. And gets an understanding of what it means if they buy a house with 10% down, their real estate market drops 15%, and they have to move to find a job. And understand that they better save money, because SS alone probably won't keep them 'in the style in which they've become accustomed'. The basics.

off topic a bit, but you shouldn't have to hesitate to link to something just because it was produced by a 'liberal' or a 'conservative'. As long as there is content worth reading. Even if we need to sift through some bias (if it is 'too much' bias, the content is probably lacking anyhow) - every article has bias in some form. Thanks for posting it.

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Old 04-23-2010, 09:26 AM   #28
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Good, then take out the "naughty bits" about bailing out creditors and pass the rest of it. It should be easy.
Sure, as long as you reconcile the above comment with this discussion here. Simply repeating "bailout" may be an effective political strategy (see Frank Luntz January 2010) but it isn't an effective policy in dealing with future runs on the financial system. Maybe you could walk us through your preferred alternative to government resolution authority.

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"Frankly, the single best way to kill any legislation is to link it to the Big Bank Bailout" - Frank Luntz, Political Consultant, January 2010
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Old 04-23-2010, 09:31 AM   #29
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Anyone understand the specific impact here?
They'd have to be a lot more specific as to why they are prevented from doing the things they say. As I understand it, the rule specifically permits companies for executing trades on behalf of their customers. So its hard to see how they'd be prevented from offering customer related products and services under the "Volker" rule unless there is some weirdness in the actual language.
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Old 04-23-2010, 09:38 AM   #30
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Ziggy, here's more info from USAA regarding their issue with the Volker Rule:

Quote:
he Volcker Rule

The "Volcker Rule," as drafted in Section 619 of the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 ("the Senate bill"), gives regulators the discretion to limit and prohibit certain investment activities of financial services companies, like USAA. In particular, this bill directs regulators to prohibit government insured depository institutions from engaging in "proprietary trading," whereby a company trades for its own account. However, the reach of the bill extends beyond the bounds of a depository institution to its affiliates and subsidiaries. For insurers that own banks or thrifts, like USAA, this could mean that all of the investment activity essential to the running of the insurance operations would be significantly limited to investment in only government securities, despite these operations already being heavily regulated by state insurance regulators. The result would be that products that require more robust investments to support them would be limited to government securities, which do not earn enough to keep the cost of such products affordable.

To illustrate this effect, insurers collect premiums from customers in return for a promise to pay a possible future claim. During the time between the collection of premiums and the claims payout, the insurer takes those premium dollars and invests them in order to ensure that funds exist to pay later arising claims. By limiting an insurer's investments to government securities, that insurer may not be able to generate the income necessary to continue offering its products at affordable rates. This could then result in the need to charge higher premiums on policies and pay less favorable rates on annuities.
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Old 04-23-2010, 09:53 AM   #31
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Ziggy, here's more info from USAA regarding their issue with the Volker Rule:
Yeah, the simple answer here is to separate the insurance company from FDIC insured institutions . . . like they did under Glass-Stegall. I think this is kind of what Volker has in mind and isn't exactly an unintended consequence. Nonetheless, I very much doubt anything so restrictive will pass.
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Old 04-23-2010, 11:12 AM   #32
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For insurers that own banks or thrifts, like USAA, this could mean that all of the investment activity essential to the running of the insurance operations would be significantly limited to investment in only government securities . . .
Gee, I wonder if there's any reason the government might want to force more money into government bonds? It would sure help prop up the massive spending for a few years longer, and artificially drive down the interest rates the government has to pay. I wonder if there is an escape clause allowing these companies to invest in corporate bonds instead when/if their ratings become better than US govt bonds?
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Old 04-23-2010, 11:28 AM   #33
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Yeah, the simple answer here is to separate the insurance company from FDIC insured institutions . . . like they did under Glass-Stegall. I think this is kind of what Volker has in mind and isn't exactly an unintended consequence. Nonetheless, I very much doubt anything so restrictive will pass.
+1.

Those who fail to learn from history are bound to repeat it -- Winston Churchill

Niall Ferguson has done an outstanding compilation of the history of money in society (see The Ascent of Money). Bottom-line, in every age where restrictions on business transactions were loosened, excesses occurred, followed by panics, recessions, depressions, etc. Once governing rules were re-established, the markets and business cycles experienced fewer wild swings between boom and bust.

So, I don't think our legislators are unaware of history. But I do think that short-term thinking and political pressure get us what we deserve.

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Old 04-23-2010, 11:54 AM   #34
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Maybe you could walk us through your preferred alternative to government resolution authority.
As we seem to disagree on the causes of the previous crisis and the proper role of government in general, I doubt we'll agree on appropriate future steps. I would say this:
1) Goldman Sachs and other large financial firms are not like commercial banks. The FDIC regulates deposits, required reserves and restricts allowed investments by commercial banks (and S&Ls), and this is relatively simple. This allows the government to provide insurance, since they closely regulate how these businesses are run. GS creates and invests in CDOs, swaps, and other leveraged investments that are so complex that very few people understand them--there's no hope of the government staying ahead of the invention of new products so that they can effectively regulate all of them, which is a requirement if the government (really you and I) are going to provide insurance for them, their depositors, and/or their creditors.
2) I would like Goldman Sachs and other firms to take responsibility for their own security. Investors should have objective data (supplied by the government) that allows them to assess the safety of various firms, and the investments they offer. When these firms compete for customers, one of the selling points should be the safety and stability of the firm. Consider these two options:
a) All the firms contribute to a government fund, or have certain guarantees of government action if they are at risk of default or if the product "blows up". No firm enjoys a particular advantage, and none go the extra mile to provide extra reserve capital, etc, since the safety net is the same. In fact, the riskier firms might be "safer" if they are forced to fold their tent early in a crisis before the "safety fund" (and the patience of taxpayers) is exhausted. "Go ugly early if you want to get your money back." Is this the best way to encourage responsible behavior?
b) Firms are responsible for their own stability. GS gets to say that "our clients are protected by a 32% capital reserve fund invested in US government bonds, the highest reserve ratio in the industry." So, other firms seek to match or exceed this in order to gain more clients (and sell at higher margins due to reduced risks).

Another example: When shopping for a bank, I look for a lot of things: good interest rates, good customer service, etc. I don't care at all about safety and security--as long as I stay under the FDIC limits, I don't care. And the banks don't make their safety a selling point--they just show the FDIC logo and consider the issue settled. This works okay for banks, but it is a terrible construct for firms engaged in complex and risky financial trading. I want their customers to care very deeply about the safety of the firms and their products, and I want the firms to compete based on their ability to inspire confidence in their customers. With claims certified as accurate by the Feds.

I'm tired of other folks making money while I assume their risk. When Chris Dodd is out of office, he can invest his own money to back up these financial firms, but I wish he'd leave me out of his good ideas. As I said, I don't expect we'll agree on this.

An interesting article: Washington Post: Let the Bankers Fail
In part:
Quote:
Like one of those notorious exploding collateralized debt obligations, the American financial system is built as if to break down. The combination of socialized risk and privatized profit all but guarantees it. And when the inevitable happens? Congress and the regulators dream up yet more ways to try to outsmart the people who have made it their business in life not to be outsmarted. And so it is again in today's debate over financial reform. From the administration and from both sides of the congressional aisle come proposals to micromanage the business of lending, borrowing and market-making: new accounting rules (foolproof this time, they say), higher capital standards, more onerous taxes. If piling on new federal rules was the answer, we'd long ago have been in the promised land.
Until 1999, Goldman Sachs was a partnership, with the general partners bearing general and unlimited liability for the firm's debts. Today, Goldman -- like the vast majority of American financial institutions -- is a corporation. Its stockholders are liable only for what they invested, no more. And while there are plenty of sleepless nights, the constructive fear of financial oblivion is, for the senior executives, an all-too-distant nightmare.
The job before Congress is to bring the fear of God back to Wall Street. Not to stifle enterprise but quite the opposite: to restore real capitalism. By all means, let the bankers savor the sweets of their success. But let them, and their stockholders, pay dearly for their failures. Fair's fair.
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Old 04-23-2010, 11:59 AM   #35
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Question: If the government was not commonly exempt from the laws it passes, would it be a violation under the proposed regulations for Social Security to put its money in Treasuries? I guess I'd be less cynical if government didn't exempt its own agencies from so many of the regulations it places on businesses and individuals.
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Old 04-23-2010, 07:13 PM   #36
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Sam, you seem to be saying that:

1) It's impossible for gov't employess to understand what investment banks do well enough to set capital limits, or to wind them down in an orderly fashion when they fail; and

2) Gov't employees understand what investment banks do well enough to determine all the relevant information that investors need, and investors understand well enough to read the information and make well informed decisions.

I can imagine that one of those statements could be true, but I can't imagine how they could both be true.
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Old 04-23-2010, 09:10 PM   #37
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Sam, you seem to be saying that:

1) It's impossible for gov't employess to understand what investment banks do well enough to set capital limits, or to wind them down in an orderly fashion when they fail; and

2) Gov't employees understand what investment banks do well enough to determine all the relevant information that investors need, and investors understand well enough to read the information and make well informed decisions.

I can imagine that one of those statements could be true, but I can't imagine how they could both be true.
If investors can define the information they need to evaluate the safety of a particular investment, then I'm confident the government can serve as the validator of that information (supplied by the banks/investment houses). Alternatively, the government could function only to administer punishment when the supplied information is fraudulent. (Meaningful punishment).

If investors can't identify the information they'd need to evaluate the safety of a particular investment, then they have no business making that investment.

Regarding the sophistication of the customers (investors). We already have the commercial banks that provide services for "regular" savers. We have the SIPC that monitors and regulates the promises security dealers can make to mom amd pop investors. Folks who actively seek out exotic, highly leveraged, or entirely opaque ways to invest their money either need to be qualified in some way (as is presently done for some investments) or at least advised that they've left the kiddie pool and are now in the ocean--with the sharks. "Warning: The government will make every effort to punish the 'bad' sharks, but that may be little consolation to you as you will likely not be reimbursed for your losses. There's really not much for you here, we recommend you go back to the kiddie pool. Sign this waiver if you want to stay in the ocean."
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Old 04-23-2010, 11:12 PM   #38
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Folks who actively seek out exotic, highly leveraged, or entirely opaque ways to invest their money either need to be qualified in some way (as is presently done for some investments) or at least advised that they've left the kiddie pool and are now in the ocean--with the sharks.
"Accredited investors" get plenty of paperwork protection already. Just the voucher form is a couple pages of legalese intended to scare away anyone with any concerns whether the company they're investing in has aligned its interests with its investors. The other paperwork accompanying a "sophisticated investment" will either show that you know what you're doing (and know it's not worth filing lawsuits about it) or show that you're willing to sign away all your rights (and won't be able to file lawsuits about it).

One rumor is that raising adjusting the $1M net worth limit for inflation would raise it to $2.3M and lock out about two-thirds of the entrepreneurs who become angel investors. (I'm not sure what's proposed about the other two parts of the accredited investors rule regarding annual income.) In other words the people most likely to support successive startups, and to understand the industry, would have to form their own groups (with additional layers of legalese and expenses) to be able to do what can now be done by signing a document and writing a check.

The compromise may be that the $1M limit stays but home equity can no longer be included in that total. Ironically one reason some Hawaii residents pursue angel investments is because they have too much of their net worth locked up in home equity and they're trying to tap into it...

I don't think angel investing needs any "reform" on either side. The process is already too viciously Darwinian to allow any miscreants to get away with anything for very long.
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Old 04-24-2010, 08:26 AM   #39
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I would say this:
What I didn't see in your answer is how you propose to prevent a future run on the financial system. Or maybe you don't think we should, which would be interesting to know too.

(BTW, the idea that "market discipline" can prevent financial runs and resulting depressions is empirically disproved by about 110 years of US financial history. As in . . .

The Panic of 1819
The Panic of 1837
The Panic of 1857
The Panic of 1873
The Panic of 1893
The Panic of 1907
The Great Depression

Incidentally, many of those prior panics were at the time called "The Great Depression" only to be renamed "Panics" when a more recent "Great Depression" took its place. Interestingly those panics and depressions stopped when we started "bailing out" short-term creditors (a.k.a. depositors) and heavily regulating financial institutions.)
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Old 04-24-2010, 08:30 AM   #40
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Question: If the government was not commonly exempt from the laws it passes, would it be a violation under the proposed regulations for Social Security to put its money in Treasuries? I guess I'd be less cynical if government didn't exempt its own agencies from so many of the regulations it places on businesses and individuals.
Are you referring to the "Volker rule"? I don't see how it would apply to SS. The rule prohibits companies with FDIC insured deposits from engaging in speculative trading for its own account. To my knowledge SS neither takes FDIC insured deposits nor does it trade securities for its own gain.
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