Posts filed under “Taxes and Policy”
The losses incurred by Bear Stearns and other large broker-dealers were
not caused by “rumors” or a “crisis of confidence,” but rather by
inadequate net capital and the lack of constraints on the incurring of
–Lee Pickard, former director, SEC trading and markets division.
Is Financial Innovation just another word for excessive and reckless leverage?
As we learn this morning via Julie Satow of the NY Sun, special exemptions from the SEC are in large part responsible for the huge build up in financial sector leverage over the past 4 years — as well as the massive current unwind
Satow interviews the above quoted former SEC director, and he spits out the blunt truth: The current excess leverage now unwinding was the result of a purposeful SEC exemption given to five firms.
You read that right — the events of the past year are not a mere accident, but are the results of a conscious and willful SEC decision to allow these firms to legally violate existing net capital rules that, in the past 30 years, had limited broker dealers debt-to-net capital ratio to 12-to-1.
Instead, the 2004 exemption — given only to 5 firms — allowed them to lever up 30 and even 40 to 1.
Who were the five that received this special exemption? You won’t be surprised to learn that they were Goldman,
Merrill, Lehman, Bear Stearns, and Morgan Stanley.
As Mr. Pickard points out that “The proof is in the pudding — three of the five broker-dealers have blown up.”
So while the SEC runs around reinstating short selling rules, and clueless pension fund managers mindlessly point to the wrong issue, we learn that it was the SEC who was in large part responsible for the reckless leverage that led to the current crisis.
You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.
Here’s an excerpt from The Sun:
“The Securities and Exchange Commission can blame itself for the current crisis. That is the allegation being made by a former SEC official, Lee Pickard, who says a rule change in 2004 led to the failure of Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, and Merrill Lynch.
The SEC allowed five firms — the three that have collapsed plus Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley — to more than double the leverage they were allowed to keep on their balance sheets and remove discounts that had been applied to the assets they had been required to keep to protect them from defaults.
Making matters worse, according to Mr. Pickard, who helped write the original rule in 1975 as director of the SEC’s trading and markets division, is a move by the SEC this month to further erode the restraints on surviving broker-dealers by withdrawing requirements that they maintain a certain level of rating from the ratings agencies.
“They constructed a mechanism that simply didn’t work,” Mr. Pickard said. “The proof is in the pudding — three of the five broker-dealers have blown up.”
The so-called net capital rule was created in 1975 to allow the SEC to oversee broker-dealers, or companies that trade securities for customers as well as their own accounts. It requires that firms value all of their tradable assets at market prices, and then it applies a haircut, or a discount, to account for the assets’ market risk. So equities, for example, have a haircut of 15%, while a 30-year Treasury bill, because it is less risky, has a 6% haircut.
The net capital rule also requires that broker dealers limit their debt-to-net capital ratio to 12-to-1, although they must issue an early warning if they begin approaching this limit, and are forced to stop trading if they exceed it, so broker dealers often keep their debt-to-net capital ratios much lower.
Chalk up another win for excess deregulation . . .
SEC’s Old Capital Approach Was Tried – and True
Lee A. Pickard
SECTION: VIEWPOINTS; Pg. 10 Vol. 173 No. 153
American Banker, August 8, 2008 Friday
Ex-SEC Official Blames Agency for Blow-Up of Broker-Dealers
They constructed a mechanism that simply didn’t work’
NY Sun, September 18, 2008
American Banker excerpt after the jump.
Both John McCain and Barack Obama responded quickly to the turn of events on Wall Street this week. Early Monday, McCain said “the fundamentals of our economy are strong” but are threatened by greed on Wall Street. He released a new ad saying “our economy is in crisis” and that “only proven reformers McCain and Palin can fix it.”
On Monday, Obama attributed the crisis to lax regulation, which he linked to President Bush and McCain.
Today, the Obama campaign released a new ad attacking McCain’s assertion that the economy is strong. “How can John McCain fix our economy if he doesn’t understand it’s broken?” the ad asks.
Bloomberg: Excerpt: The U.S. Treasury is considering taking over American International Group Inc. under a conservatorship as one option to address the insurer’s crisis, according to two people briefed on the discussions. Executives from AIG, bankers and Treasury and Federal Reserve officials are meeting today on the company’s situation at the New York Fed. A…Read More
Goldman Sach’s Jon Hatzius just published an interesting Brookings Paper on the inter-relationship between falling home prices, the credit crunch, and real GDP.
I found some interesting theories and arguments worth chewing over in the paper. (A link to the full paper and the abstract are below).
Here are the four main points I took away from his analysis:
1) The "best case scenario" during the the credit downturn would be a "couple of years of stagnation or mild recession in the broader economy;" and that’s only, according to Hatzius, if the GSE’s continue expanding their books of business (i.e., keep buying up mortgages).
2) On the other hand, if the "GSEs were to stop growing their book of business . . . it "would also raise the risk of substantial adverse feedback effects
between the real economy, the housing market, and the financial
Um, news flash: The feedback loop (in a negative direction) between housing, credit and the economy is not a risk, its a reality. That is precisely what we are in the early stages of experiencing. Its here, its now, and it looks to be getting worse.
3) Now’s where things get interesting: "The specter of such a feedback loop was likely an important reason for the Treasury’s decision to take the GSEs into conservatorship on September 7."
I would argue that the adverse loop was already visible to the Treasury (and the Fed), and their concern was a rapid expansion of this negative (duh) inter-relationship between credit, housing and the economy. Its the only half-decent economic explanation I have heard so far to justify the conservatorship.
4) "Macroeconomic policies may need to remain unusually expansionary during the adjustment of the financial system to the housing and credit market downturn."
Um, yeah. At this point, a tighgtening is off the table for the Tuesday Fed meeting. I expect by next Summer’s fishing trip, rates will be down to 1.5%.
A few charts and the ABSTRACT are after the jump . . .
Beyond Leveraged Losses: The Balance Sheet Effects of the Home Price Downturn
Brookings Papers, September 10, 2008