Posts Tagged ‘financial system’

Basel III Tightens Global Banking Standards

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

 Basel III agreement is designed to prevent future financial meltdowns.Global banking regulators have agreed to implement new rules that will make the international banking industry safer and avoid future financial meltdowns. Known as Basel III — after the Swiss city in which the agreement was worked out — the new requirements will more than triple the amount of capital that banks must have in reserves.  This will oblige banks to be more conservative and compel them to maintain larger hedges against potential losses.

The heart of the agreement is a requirement that banks raise the amount of common equity they hold – perceived as the least risky form of capital – to seven percent of assets from just two percent.  Banks are concerned that the tough new regulations will reduce profits, harm weaker institutions and increase the cost of borrowing money.  To allay their concerns, regulators are giving the banks as long as 10 years to implement the toughest rules.  Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank, said “The agreements reached today are a fundamental strengthening of global capital standards.”  Representatives from 27 nations, who are members of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, participated.  The committee’s recommendations are subject to approval in November by G-20 nations, including the United States.  A deadline of January 1, 2013, was set to start phasing in the revised regulations.

Mary Frances Monroe, vice president for regulatory policy at the American Bankers Association – which represents the nation’s 8,000 banks – was happy with the results.  “Banks understand the need for heightened prudential standards,” she said.  The United States’ top banking regulators – the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency – issued a statement saying the agreement “represents a significant step forward in reducing the incidence and severity of future financial crises.”

One Year After Financial Meltdown, Obama Counsels Caution

Monday, September 21st, 2009

On the first anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the onset of the global financial crisis,  President Barack Obama used a Wall Street speech to call for stringent new regulation of United States markets.  After Lehman’s collapse, the American government infused billions of dollars into the financial system and took major stakes in Wall Street’s most famous names.  Although this action stabilized the system, it could not forestall a shrinking economy or the highest unemployment rate in 26 years.lehmanbros

“We can be confident that the storms of the past two years are beginning to break,” he said.  As the economy begins a “return to normalcy,” Obama said, “normalcy cannot lead to complacency.”

Lobbyists, lawmakers and even regulators so far have opposed proposals to more closely monitor the financial system. The five biggest banks – Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Bank of America – posted second-quarter 2009 profits totaling $13 billion.  That is more than twice their profits in the second quarter of 2008 and nearly two-thirds as much as the $20.7 billion they earned in the same timeframe two years ago – a time when the economy was considered strong.

Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, is the point man for formulating new rules.  President Obama wants stricter capital requirements for banks to prevent them from purchasing exotic financial products without keeping adequate cash on hand.  It was precisely this type of behavior that caused last year’s financial crisis.

Wall Street Relocating to Constitution Avenue

Friday, July 17th, 2009

America’s financial capital is now Washington, D.C. With Congress and the White House acting forcefully to stop the bleeding resulting from the worldwide financial crisis, numerous investors and brokers are relocating from New York to Washington because that’s where the action is these days.

wall-street-flagOne of the nation’s healthiest metropolitan areas, Washington is benefiting from government hiring as the Obama Administration works to strengthen the nation’s financial system.  The collapse of prominent investment banking firms such as Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns has triggered increased scrutiny of large banks and created a need for additional workers with auditing and investment expertise in government regulatory offices.

The government’s deep involvement in the financial sector is bringing in investment that in other times would have gone to Manhattan.  German banks, for example, are investing significant dollars in hotels and office buildings.

According to Ramon Kochavi, regional manager of Marcus and Millichap, “The government will grow.”  Kochvai foresees declining defense contracting and an expansion of biotech firms under the Obama administration.  New R & D firms are opening facilities in Rockville, MD, and along Virginia’s Dulles Corridor to support the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD.  Medical services growth is also expected as access to healthcare is a national priority.

Geithner: The Patient is Out of Intensive Care

Friday, May 15th, 2009

It’s been a long, strange ride, but the nation’s financial system is finally starting what is certain to be an extended healing process. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner believes that “the financial system is starting to heal” as he promised to move returned bail-out funds to community banks that need help.bandaid-on-broken-and-cracked-piggy-bank

Improved lending circumstances are tempering concerns about systemic risk and reduced leverage at banks, according to Geithner, who noted that “a substantial part of the adjustment process” for the financial sector is now coming to an end.

Several of the larger banks – Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Capital One Financial – want to repay the funds they received under the Troubled Asset Relief Program.  The Treasury will increase the money community banks can access to five percent of risk-weighted assets from three percent.  The government has already invested in preferred stock in 300 smaller banks.

“As in any financial crisis, the damage has been unfair and indiscriminate,” Geithner said.  “Ordinary Americans, small business owners and community banks who did the right thing and played by the rules are suffering from the actions of those who took on too much risk.”

Why the optimism?  Geithner points to declines in corporate bond spreads, lower risk premiums in inter-bank markets and cheaper default insurance on big banks as evidence that the financial system is healing.  “These are welcome signs, but the process of financial recovery and repair is going to take time,” he cautions.

Bernanke Sees Some Light at the End of a Long Tunnel

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Encouraging data on home and auto sales, homebuilding and consumer spending is seen by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke as “tentative signs” that the recession may be moderating.  Still, he cautions that lasting recovery depends on the government’s success in stabilizing the reeling financial markets and unfreezing credit.captphoto_1241771944325-6-02

In remarks to faculty and students at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Bernanke said “Recently, we have seen tentative signs that the sharp decline in economic activity may be slowing.  A leveling out of economic activity is the first step toward recovery.  To be sure, we will not have a sustainable recovery without a stabilization of our financial system and credit markets.”

Analysts expect the economy to shrink between two and 2 ½ percent during the second quarter of 2009, a better showing than the 6.3 percent contraction reported for the fourth quarter of 2008.  Although numbers for the first three months of 2009 will not be available until the end of April, some economists believe it will be in the four or five percent range – or perhaps higher.

“The current crisis has been one of the most difficult financial and economic episodes in modern history,” according to Bernanke.

Dr. Geithner’s Harsh Medicine

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

The Obama administration has proposed the most comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s financial industry since the Great Depression.  The measures, as outlined by Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, geithnerwill require regulation of hedge funds for the first time and give government wide-ranging powers to seize and take apart companies that are perceived as threats to the overall economy.  The proposals are strong medicine indeed.

The measures, which require Congressional approval, are structured to entice private buyers by offering the similar supercharged leverage that prevailed during the financial boom-but one where oversight is de rigueur.   While the private sector is cutting back on its debt, the government believes that providing inexpensive financing is the best way to free up the market for illiquid debt.

The proposals give the Federal Reserve the authority to oversee the nation’s economy for signs of “systemic risk”.  The legislation will include significantly stronger requirements regarding the cash reserves and assets that institutions must have on hand to endure economic downturns.  Hedge funds, private-equity firms, derivatives and other private investment funds will be required to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission and will be subject to strict regulation.  Additionally, the government will establish a central clearinghouse to closely monitor trades in these markets.  Lastly, the administration will develop stricter requirements for money market funds so withdrawals don’t threaten the broader financial system.

Harsh medicine indeed, but the old system failed us all.  Secretary Geithner sees his proposals as a price worth paying to clean out banks’ balance sheets.  If the plan fails, it will be because banks were not willing to risk of taking a write-down and depleting precious capital.

Paul Volcker: U.S. Is in a Recession

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

“It’s not going to be a problem in the short run.  Inflation doesn’t flourish in the face of recession,” said Paul Volcker, who served as chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1979 until 1987.  “It’s something we have to worry about when we get out of this recession.  I have been around for a while.  I have seen a lot of crises, but I have never seen anything quite like this one.  This crisis is an exception.  I don’t think we can escape damage to the real economy.” Volcker believes that the United States is officially in a state of recession.  In a Reuters’ article, Volcker affirms that stabilizing the financial system to ease the credit crisis is a government priority, even if it requires significant intrusion into the private sector.

“The first priority is to stabilize the financial system.  It is necessary, even though the cost is heavy government intrusion in markets that should be private,” Volcker told an audience at a seminar in Singapore.  “Housing prices in the U.S. are still declining.  There are more losses to come.”

Volcker, who is credited with battling the double-digit inflation of the 1970s, believes that the massive infusion of liquidity by the Federal Reserve ultimately could result in inflation or even stagflation.

Volcker is currently chairman of the board of trustees of the Group of 30, an international body composed of central-bank governors, leading economists and private financial-sector experts.  Additionally, the former Federal Reserve chairman is serving as an economic advisor to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.