October 2, 2022

Dodd-Frank Under Fire a Year Later

WASHINGTON — In the year since the passage of a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s financial regulatory system after the financial crisis, the stock market is up, banking profits have grown and institutions that invest on behalf of average Americans are praising the tougher stance in Washington.

Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary, expressed the general good feeling among Obama administration officials on Monday, saying that the financial system was “on more solid ground” than at any time since before the crisis in 2008.

But there remain signs that the tightened regulatory measures could still be undone, creating uncertainty about whether the actions that have helped to stabilize Wall Street will be in place when the next crisis hits.

Two dozen bills in Congress seek to dismantle parts of the Dodd-Frank Act, which President Obama signed a year ago Thursday. Business groups have argued that too many new regulations could snuff out the start of an economic recovery.

President Obama says he believes the battle is far from over.

“The financial crisis and the recession were not the result of normal economic cycles or just a run of bad luck,” the president said Monday as he nominated a new director for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a centerpiece of the Dodd-Frank Act. “There were abuses and there was a lack of smart regulations.  So we’re not just going to shrug our shoulders and hope it doesn’t happen again.”

Mr. Obama’s pick for the new bureau is Richard Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general.

It is not yet clear, however, that the forces fighting to preserve all the elements of Dodd-Frank will, in fact, win out. It is also not clear that Mr. Cordray will be confirmed by the Senate.

Senate Republicans are refusing to consider nominations for posts at several financial regulatory agencies. Lawmakers have taken aim at agencies for budget cuts. Administration officials say that banking and business lobbyists have spent more than $50 million this year to try to change the law, most of which has still not taken effect because regulators have not finished drawing up the new rules.

The forces arrayed against Mr. Obama are aptly demonstrated by his nomination of Mr. Cordray to head the consumer bureau. Mr. Cordray was hired as the bureau’s director of enforcement several months ago by Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor and bankruptcy expert whom Mr. Obama credited with giving him the idea for the agency.

While Ms. Warren has been working since September to prepare the agency for its July 21 opening, Republicans made clear that they did not want her appointed to a permanent position. A group of 44 Republican senators vowed they would not let any nomination come to a floor vote unless significant changes were made in the structure, power and scope of the consumer agency.

Bank lobbyists have called for structural changes, too, but they have also bemoaned the lack of a director for the agency. “The absence of a confirmed director and the enormous powers of this new agency have created a time of great uncertainty for the retail banking industry,” the Consumer Bankers Association, which represents retail banks, said Monday.

Uncertainty has long been the watchword for opponents of Dodd-Frank. When Mr. Obama signed the act last year, the United States Chamber of Commerce said it was “a broad, sweeping bill” that “epitomizes a law with unintended consequences that creates more uncertainty for American businesses.”

Since then, the unemployment rate has remained high. But there are some other indications that investors, at least, have not been bothered by uncertainty or regulation. The Dow Jones industrial average is up more than 20 percent from a year ago, even after declining in the last few days. Indexes of small-company stocks are up more than 30 percent from last year at this time, and the market for initial public stock offerings, particularly for technology stocks, has been strong.

The Council of Institutional Investors, a lobbying group that represents pension and employee benefit funds, endowments and foundations, said Monday that the Dodd-Frank Act was “a clear win for investors.”

“Excessive risk by Wall Street fueled the market meltdown that wiped out millions of U.S. jobs and billions in retirement savings,” Ann Yerger, the council’s executive director, said in a statement. “The Dodd-Frank Act, if implemented as intended, will be a critical bulwark against such massive abuse of investors.”

David Hirschmann, a senior vice president at the Chamber of Commerce, said while investors might be sanguine about the long-term outlook, “uncertainty among companies about the rules of the road is keeping a lot of capital on the sidelines.”

Several crucial financial issues remain to be resolved, including what is known as the Volcker Rule, a ban on banks trading for their own accounts. Rules governing the trading and processing of derivatives, the complex financial instruments that contributed to the difficulties of several banking and insurance companies, have yet to be completed.

On Monday, the Financial Stability Oversight Council, which includes the top banking and financial regulators, approved one of a series of rules on how to determine whether financial institutions like stock markets and clearinghouses were “systemically important” to the financial system and subject to a higher level of oversight.

Bankers say they remain worried about whether tightened standards in this country will put them at a disadvantage as they try to expand overseas. Ben S. Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, said Monday that he shared a similar concern. “Unless we have international consistency, we will not have a level playing field, we’ll have opportunities for regulatory arbitrage and the entire reform process will not be effective.”

For Mr. Obama, continued opposition to changes in the law is a top priority, he said. “There is an army of lobbyists and lawyers right now working to water down the protections and the reforms that we passed.” He continued: “They’ve got allies in Congress who are trying to undo the progress that we’ve made.  We’re not going to let that happen.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=a850edbb8a1c121f8764880a83620bb4

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