August 24, 2017

Fed Chairman Reaffirms Stimulus and Warns Congress Over Cuts

Mr. Bernanke said that the Fed expected the economy to gain strength in the coming months, potentially allowing the Fed to decelerate its stimulus campaign not because it has changed its goals but because it has begun to achieve them.

But he warned that Congress itself remains the greatest obstacle to faster growth. Federal spending cuts are reducing growth this year by about 1.5 percentage points, he said. While the Fed expects the impact to diminish next year, he said there was a risk Congress would create new problems for the economy.

“The risks remain that tight federal fiscal policy will restrain economic growth over the next few quarters by more than we currently expect, or that the debate concerning other fiscal policy issues, such as the status of the debt ceiling, will evolve in a way that could hamper the recovery,” Mr. Bernanke said during a biannual appearance before the House Financial Services Committee.

Wednesday may have marked the last time that Mr. Bernanke will appear before the committee to report on the Fed’s conduct of monetary policy. He will conclude his second term as chairman at the end of January and is widely expected to step down. Members of both parties took the opportunity to praise him, although Republicans generally added that they opposed the Fed’s recent efforts.

“You acted boldly and decisively and creatively – very creatively, I might add,” said the committee’s chairman, Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling.

“You have never been boring,” said New York Democrat Carolyn Maloney.

Mr. Bernanke then did his very best to be boring, sending the message to markets that had been roiled by his comments last month that it was much ado about nothing.

The shabby condition of the economy has become the constant background for Mr. Bernanke’s public appearances. Unemployment remains stubbornly common, inflation has sagged to the lowest pace on record and growth is tepid.

Mr. Bernanke’s message Wednesday was that the Fed will begin to decelerate only if those problems continue to diminish. If unemployment stays high, the Fed will keep buying bonds. If inflation stays low, the Fed will keep buying bonds. If growth weakens, the Fed will keep buying bonds. Indeed, he revived a talking point from earlier this year in insisting that the Fed was willing to increase the volume of its monthly purchases if it decided that more stimulus was necessary.

“Because our asset purchases depend on economic and financial developments, they are by no means on a preset course,” Mr. Bernanke told the committee.

Mr. Bernanke has adopted a stronger tone in particular on the subject of inflation. Fed officials insisted for much of the year that they were not concerned about the sagging pace of inflation, which has fallen to the lowest pace on record. Prices increased by just 1 percent during the 12 months that ended in May, well below the 2 percent pace that the Fed considers most healthy. In recent weeks, the Fed has shifted its tone, emphasizing that it wants prices to rise more quickly.

On Wednesday Mr. Bernanke put inflation alongside unemployment as the reasons for the Fed’s commitment to its stimulus campaign: “Our intention is to keep monetary policy highly accommodative for the foreseeable future,” he said, “because inflation is below our target and unemployment is quite high.”

The central bank says it plans to hold short-term interest rates near zero at least as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6.5 percent. It also is expanding its holdings of mortgage-backed and Treasury securities by $85 billion a month in an effort to accelerate the pace of employment growth.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/18/business/economy/fed-chairman-points-finger-at-congress.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Economix Blog: Multinational Corporations’ Support for Big Banks Is Not Persuasive

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Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, is the Ronald A. Kurtz Professor of Entrepreneurship at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management and co-author of “White House Burning: The Founding Fathers, Our National Debt, and Why It Matters to You.”

Large multinational nonfinancial companies waded into the debate over too-big-to-fail financial institutions this week, coming down strongly on the side of very large global banks. Specifically, the Business Roundtable, a group representing big nonfinancial companies, sent a letter to the leadership of the House Financial Services Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee arguing in favor of including financial services in any potential new trade agreement with Europe (known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, pronounced T-tip).

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The rationale is that “the negotiations will provide an opportunity to address market access barriers that keep U.S. businesses from enjoying full opportunities in Europe.”

And the letter comes from the International Engagement Committee and the Corporate Governance Committee of the Business Roundtable, a distinguished group of executives. It will carry weight.

There are three reasons to worry a great deal about the thinking behind this intervention: the motivation, the facts and the implications for our ability to limit systemic risks.

First, the explicit intention of this letter includes resisting further attempts at strengthening cap requirements for the United States financial system, like the legislation proposed by Senators Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, and David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana. The letter includes this statement:

The “Brown-Vitter” legislation and other contemplated proposals threaten to place significant new burdens on the largest U.S. banks, unilaterally imposing a new regulatory regime while leaving E.U. financial institutions unaffected.


The reasoning is that higher capital requirements would hurt American banks and therefore hurt nonfinancial activity:

The end result of these proposals would be to give large European and Asian financial institutions a serious advantage against their U.S. competitors, while increasing regulatory dissonance between the United States and the E.U.

The implication, as I read the letter, is that the United States should tie itself more closely to European banking practices, on capital and regulation more generally.

But the point of the Brown-Vitter proposal is precisely to make the financial system safer, by requiring larger buffers of loss absorbing equity financing. As Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig point out in their book, “The Bankers’ New Clothes,” more equity reduces the risk of financial distress. Financial crises cause huge damage to the nonfinancial sector, and this is exactly what happened in 2008 and the years that followed.

Ask yourself this question: had the United States more fully adopted Basel II – the international capital standards preferred by Europe – in the run-up to 2007, would its problems now be bigger or smaller? Under Basel II, banks were allowed to have less equity funding and more leverage (i.e., more debt relative to their balance sheets). Thank goodness that Sheila Bair and her colleagues at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation resisted efforts by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and others to fully adopt the European way of calculating and regulating capital.

Unfortunately, leading nonfinancial corporate voices seem to have forgotten that lesson.

Second, there is a problem with the basic facts in the Roundtable letter. These representatives of big nonfinancial companies assert that if, for example, American banks were forced to become smaller, this would put American nonfinancial companies at a disadvantage relative to European and Asian nonfinancial companies.

The United States is home to only three of the largest 20 global banks, ranked by total assets; if those banks were significantly downsized or altered via these proposals, European and Asian competitors would be much better positioned to handle major, complex global transactions that smaller, regional U.S. financial institutions simply cannot handle.

But if big banks are measured on a comparable basis – for example, by converting American balance sheets from GAAP (the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, used in the United States for financial reporting) to the International Financial Reporting Standards, or I.F.R.S., used in Europe – the United States has the largest three banks in the world (JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup).

Differences in accounting standards may sound technical, but this is just about comparing apples to apples. Thomas Hoenig, vice chairman of the F.D.I.C., has done a great service by providing the numbers on this basis. I agree with Mr. Hoenig that I.F.R.S. is the best basis for this comparison.

Asked for its sources and definitions, the Business Roundtable responded with a statement that said it used “conventional industry rankings,” which I believe are flawed.

Measured properly, JPMorgan Chase is already much larger than its nearest foreign competition (a balance sheet of nearly $4 trillion, compared with the largest European banks, which are under $3 trillion) and Bank of America is nearly as big. If JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America are pressured to shrink to the level of their European competitors, what exactly would the broader American economy lose?

Third, consider the deeper logic implied in the Business Roundtable letter. The euro-zone economy is a mess, and its financial sector is a disaster — in part because equity capital fell to dangerous levels and has not been rebuilt, and in part because the European regulatory and private-sector application of “risk weights” has completely broken down. Sovereign debt within the euro zone is still considered to be low or zero risk, despite all that we have observed over the last five years.

The idea that the United States should associate itself more closely with this completely failed approach to bank regulation boggles the mind.

If financial services are included in TTIP, this would completely tie the hands of American regulators, including the Federal Reserve and the F.D.I.C.

Existing international agreements – for example, the Basel III accord on capital – are not good, but at least these only set a floor on what American regulators can do. And the latest indications are that the Fed – with much prodding from the F.D.I.C. – will set a limit on financial-institution leverage that is lower (i.e., a tougher restriction on how much such companies can borrow) than required under Basel.

But if such details were put into a trade agreement, in all likelihood a ceiling would be set on bank equity capital, severely limiting the ability of American officials to respond to financial risks as they materialize. The Federal Reserve, among others, should resist strenuously any attempt to include financial services in TTIP.

It is with good reason that capital requirements and core regulatory issues for financial services are not usually part of such trade agreements. The nonfinancial sector – along with everyone else – really does not need big banks to blow themselves up along European lines at any point in the foreseeable future.

Article source: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/06/multinational-corporations-support-for-big-banks-is-not-persuasive/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Fed Chairman Defends Stimulus Efforts

Mr. Bernanke, in written testimony submitted to the Senate Banking Committee, also urged Congress and the Obama administration to replace the sequestration cuts scheduled to begin Friday with a plan to reduce federal deficits more gradually.

“Although monetary policy is working to promote a more robust recovery, it cannot carry the entire burden of ensuring a speedier return to economic health,” Mr. Bernanke said. He warned that the combination of previous spending cuts and sequestration “could create a significant headwind for the economic recovery.”

Still, Mr. Bernanke was relatively upbeat about the health of the broader economy, which he described as growing at a “moderate if somewhat uneven pace.”

He said disappointing growth in the fourth quarter “does not appear to reflect a stalling-out of the recovery.” Consumer demand kept rising and, he said, “Available information suggests that economic growth has picked up again this year.”

Mr. Bernanke, who reports to Congress on monetary policy twice each year, used his written testimony to strongly defend the Fed’s expansion of its economic stimulus campaign in September and December to reduce unemployment more quickly. He will answer questions from the Senate committee Tuesday morning, then testify before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday morning.

The Fed, which has amassed almost $3 trillion in Treasury and mortgage-backed securities, is expanding those holdings by $85 billion a month until it sees clear improvement in the labor market. It plans to hold short-term interest rates near zero even longer, at least until the unemployment rate falls below 6.5 percent.

“In the current economic environment, the benefits of asset purchases, and of policy accommodation more generally, are clear,” Mr. Bernanke said. “Monetary policy is providing important support to the recovery” while keeping inflation in check.

The asset purchases and the interest-rate policy are designed to reduce borrowing costs for businesses and consumers. Mr. Bernanke said the recovery of the housing market and higher sales of automobiles, among other durable goods, demonstrated the benefit of the Fed’s campaign.

Fed Governor Jeremy C. Stein and some other Fed officials have expressed concern in recent months that low interest rates are encouraging excessive risk-taking by investors pursuing higher returns. Mr. Stein in a recent speech highlighted rising demand for junk bonds and certain kinds of real estate investments, and shifts in bank balance sheets, as areas of potential concern.

Mr. Bernanke said Tuesday that the Fed takes these concerns “very seriously,” noting that the central bank has significantly expanded its efforts to monitor financial markets, and has given greater priority to financial regulation.

But he noted that low interest rates also were helping to strengthen the financial system, by encouraging companies to increase reliance on long-term funding, allowing debt levels to decline and strengthening growth.

He added that he saw no reason to consider a change in course.

“To this point we do not see the potential costs of the increased risk-taking in some financial markets as outweighing the benefits of promoting a stronger economic recovery and more rapid job creation,” Mr. Bernanke said.

He also downplayed the concern expressed by some Fed officials and analysts that the central bank’s plans to control inflation as the economy recovers could be complicated by a political backlash because it may lose money as it sheds some of its vast holdings of Treasuries and mortgage bonds.

Such losses could be large enough to prevent the Fed from transferring profits to the Treasury Department for the first time since 1934, according to a Fed analysis.

Mr. Bernanke, noting the Fed has transferred $290 billion to Treasury since 2009, said it was “highly likely” Treasury still would see a net benefit from the purchases because any losses would not exceed those profits.

“Moreover, to the extent that monetary policy promotes growth and job creation, the resulting reduction in the federal deficit would dwarf any variation in the Federal Reserve’s remittances to the Treasury,” he said.

When Mr. Bernanke last appeared before Congress in July, he identified three major obstacles to faster growth: the depressed housing market, the financial crisis in Europe, and American fiscal policy. In his prepared testimony Tuesday, he did not mention Europe and barely touched on housing. But he warned that government policy was continuing to slow the pace of economic growth.

The recent agreements to reduce deficits, Mr. Bernanke said, focused on short-term spending cuts while doing little to address longer-term imbalances.

“To address both the near- and longer-term issues,” he said, “the Congress and the administration should consider replacing the sharp, front-loaded spending cuts required by the sequestration with policies that reduce the federal deficit more gradually in the near term but more substantially in the longer run.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/27/business/economy/fed-chairman-defends-stimulus-efforts.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: New York Fed Receives Reprieve on Libor Request

Representative Randy Neugebauer, left, leads the oversight panel of the House Financial Services Committee.Luke Sharrett for The New York TimesRepresentative Randy Neugebauer, left, leads the oversight panel of the House Financial Services Committee.

Congress has eased demands that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York turn over thousands of documents that detail interest rate manipulation at big banks, whittling down the request and granting the regulator additional time.

The reprieve will afford the New York Fed an additional month to comply with the sprawling inquiry, according to people briefed on the matter. Before the delay, the agency was under pressure to meet a Sept. 1 deadline.

The original document request came in July, when the oversight panel of the House Financial Services Committee sought volumes of records about the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, a benchmark interest rate that affects the cost of trillions of dollars in mortgages and other loans.

In a letter at the time, the oversight panel asked the New York Fed to detail its correspondence with employees from the banks that help set the benchmark, which is at the center of a multiyear rate-rigging scheme. The oversight panel, led by Representative Randy Neugebauer, Republican of Texas, also ordered the New York Fed to turn over its internal Libor-related documents and any communication with other government authorities.

In addition to the one-month extension, the subcommittee is narrowing the scope of its request. Lawmakers are planning to seek communication among government authorities and documents circulated internally at the New York Fed, the people briefed on the matter said.

Libor Explained

By steering clear of e-mails from bankers, the inquiry could avoid complicating a wide-ranging criminal investigation. Still, once the initial documents are received, Congress may ramp up its request, one of the people briefed on the matter said.

The New York Fed already produced reams of transcripts this summer involving phone calls its officials had with Barclays. Barclays was the first bank to settle accusations that it tried to manipulate Libor for its own benefit. It reached a $450 million settlement with the Justice Department as well as regulators in the United States and Britain.

Regulators and criminal authorities around the world are investigating more than a dozen other big banks, including HSBC and Deutsche Bank, for their role in manipulating Libor, a measure of how much banks charge each other for loans. Banks are suspected of reporting false rates during the financial crisis to bolster profits and to shore up their image.

The scandal has consumed the banking industry and called into question the New York Fed’s oversight powers. In the case of Barclays, the New York Fed learned in 2008 that the British bank was submitting false rates.

“We know that we’re not posting um, an honest” rate, a Barclays employee told a New York Fed official in April 2008, according to transcripts the regulator released to Congress in July. During the crisis, when high borrowing costs were a sign of poor financial health, banks were artificially depressing the rates to project a stronger image.

But rather than pushing for a civil or criminal crackdown, the New York Fed advocated policy changes to the rate-setting process. The British organization that oversees the rate adopted some of the changes. With the crisis in full swing, the New York Fed moved on to more pressing concerns.

That approach has drawn sharp scrutiny from the oversight panel.

“As you know, the role of government is to ensure that our markets are run with the highest standards of honesty, integrity and transparency,” Mr. Neugebauer wrote in a letter to the New York Fed dated July 23. “Therefore, any admission of market manipulation — regardless of the degree — should be swiftly and vigorously investigated.”


This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 29, 2012

An earlier version of a caption accompanying this article misstated the role of Representative Randy Neugebauer. He leads the oversight panel of the House Financial Services Committee, not the committee itself.

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/08/29/new-york-fed-receives-reprieve-on-libor-request/?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: Facing House, Geithner Is Grilled on Rate-Rigging

Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary, answering questions from lawmakers on Wednesday.Brendan Smialowski/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesTimothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary, answered questions from lawmakers on Wednesday.

Timothy F. Geithner was grilled on Wednesday about the growing interest rate rigging scandal, as lawmakers questioned why he failed to thwart the illegal activity during the financial crisis.

As head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2008, Mr. Geithner learned that big banks were trying to manipulate a benchmark interest rate. Rather than curbing the bad behavior at specific firms, Mr. Geithner pushed broad reforms to the rate, known as the London interbank offered rate, or Libor.

“It appears you treated it as a curiosity, or something akin to jaywalking, as opposed to highway robbery,” Jeb Hensarling, Republican of Texas, said at a House hearing on Wednesday.

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Even as Republicans slammed Mr. Geithner on Wednesday, many Democrats came to his defense. Mr. Geithner, now the Treasury secretary, challenged the Republican critique as well. In testimony before the House Financial Services Committee, Mr. Geithner said he was “very concerned” that the rate-setting process lacked integrity and he promptly notified other regulators about his worries.

Last month, Barclays struck a $450 million settlement with American and British authorities over accusations that it undermined Libor. The case against the British bank was the first action to stem from a global investigation into more than 10 other banks.

Libor Explained

“We took the initiative to bring those concerns to the broader regulatory community,” Mr. Geithner said, referring to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission. “I believe we did the necessary and appropriate thing very early in the process,” he said.

But Mr. Geithner on Wednesday also acknowledged that he did not alert federal prosecutors to the wrongdoing.

The revelation prompted lawmakers to question whether his response was sufficient, given the scope of wrongdoing and the importance of Libor to the broader financial system. Libor, a measure of how much banks charge to lend to one another, is a benchmark for trillions of dollars in mortgages and other loans.

In April 2008, the New York Fed learned from Barclays that it was artificially depressing its Libor reports to deflect concerns about its health. “We know that we’re not posting um, an honest” rate, a Barclays employee told a New York Fed official in April 2008.

Mr. Geithner said he was not aware at the time of “that specific conversation.”

But that same day, New York Fed officials wrote in a weekly internal memo that the problem was widespread. “Our contacts at Libor contributing banks have indicated a tendency to underreport actual borrowing costs,” New York Fed officials wrote, “to limit the potential for speculation about the institutions’ liquidity problems.” At the time, high borrowing costs were a sign of poor health.

Even after discovering that banks were manipulating Libor, the New York Fed pursued a somewhat passive approach.

When Mr. Geithner briefed other American regulators on Libor in May 2008, he did not disclose the specific wrongdoing at Barclays. Republicans pressed him on Wednesday to explain why he didn’t notify the Justice Department about the illegal behavior.

He explained that the Justice Department did not belong to the working group of regulators that were focused on Libor.

Mr. Geithner, who outlined the state of Wall Street regulation on Wednesday, heralded his past efforts to reform Libor. He noted that the New York Fed repeatedly pushed a British trade group that oversees Libor to overhaul the rate-setting process.

In a June 2008 e-mail to the Bank of England, the country’s central bank, Mr. Geithner recommended that British officials “strengthen governance and establish a credible reporting procedure” and “eliminate incentive to misreport” Libor.

The New York Fed then advocated fixes more forcefully than its British counterparts, records show. The trade group later adopted only some of Mr. Geithner’s recommendations.

“We gave them very specific detailed changes,” Mr. Geithner said, adding that “if more of those would have been adopted sooner, you would have limited the risk.”

But Representative Randy Neugebauer, Republican of Texas, questioned why the New York Fed focused on policy solutions rather than the bright-line legal violations.

“If they were having structural problems, then I think your e-mail was appropriate,” said Mr. Neugebauer, who is leading a Congressional investigation into how the New York Fed handled the Libor scandal. “But what was being disclosed here was fraud.”

Ultimately, Mr. Geithner said, responsibility rests with the British regulators. “We felt, and I still believe this, it was really going to be on them to fix this. This is a rate set in London.”

Democrats echoed his argument. “I for one am not part of the ‘blame America first’ crowd,” said Representative Brad Sherman, Democrat of California.

In deferring to overseas authorities, Mr. Geithner drew further ire from Republicans. “It wasn’t just a British problem,” Mr. Neugebauer said, noting that the rate affects the cost of borrowing around the world.

Despite the scrutiny, Mr. Geithner escaped relatively unscathed. While Republicans rebuked his approach to the Libor problems, few new revelations emerged from the more than two-hour hearing. And the pressure eased at times when Democratic lawmakers praised Mr. Geithner for championing reforms to Libor.

“There’s been an effort to blame you for all of this,” said Barney Frank, the ranking Democrat on the committee. But “you reported this” to other regulators.

Mr. Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, cast the blame not on regulators but the banks that ran afoul of the law. The banks, he said, “grievously misbehaved.”

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/07/25/facing-congress-geithner-grilled-on-rate-rigging/?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: Libor Scandal Intensifies Spotlight on Bank Regulators

Paul Tucker, an official with the Bank of England, appeared before a British parliamentary committee on Monday.ReutersPaul Tucker, an official with the Bank of England, appeared before a British parliamentary committee on Monday.

As big banks face the fallout from a global investigation into interest rate manipulation, American and British lawmakers are scrutinizing regulators who failed to take action that might have prevented years of illegal activity.

Politicians in both London and Washington are questioning whether regulators allowed banks to report false rates in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis and afterward. On Monday, Congress stepped into the fray, requesting information about the role of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, according to people close to the matter.

The focus on regulators and other financial institutions has intensified in the last two weeks after the British bank Barclays agreed to pay $450 million to resolve its case. British and American authorities accused the bank of improperly influencing key interest rates to deflect concerns about its health and bolster profits.

The Barclays settlement is the first action stemming from a broad investigation into how banks set key benchmarks, including the London interbank offered rate, or Libor. The pricing of $350 trillion of financial products, including credit cards, mortgages and student loans, is pegged to Libor and other such rates.

Authorities around the world are now considering action against more than 10 big banks, including UBS, JPMorgan and Citigroup. The banks also face a raft of civil litigation from municipalities, investors and other financial firms that claim they lost money from the misreporting of rates. These lawsuits could end up costing the industry tens of billions of dollars, according to analysts.

On Monday, the oversight panel of the House Financial Services Committee sent a letter to the New York Fed seeking transcripts from at least a dozen phone calls in 2007 and 2008 between central bank officials and executives at Barclays.

“Some news reports indicate that although Barclays raised concerns multiple times with American and British authorities about discrepancies over how Libor was set, the bank was not told to stop the practice,” Representative Randy Neugebauer, a Texas Republican and the head of the House oversight panel, said in the letter, which was reviewed by The New York Times.

The political firestorm also escalated in London on Monday, where a British parliamentary committee grilled a top Bank of England official over his knowledge of wrongdoing at Barclays. British politicians chided Paul Tucker, deputy governor at the Bank of England, the country’s central bank, for not taking a more active role in Libor.

In November 2007, Mr. Tucker led a meeting in which some officials raised concerns that banks were underreporting Libor submissions to temper concerns about their health, a process known as lowballing. It was in the earliest stages of the market turmoil that would culminate in the 2008 financial crisis, and banks were loath to report high rates that pointed to weak financial footing.

“This doesn’t look good, Mr. Tucker,” Andrew Tyrie, the head of the parliamentary committee, said on Monday, referring to minutes of the meeting. “We have what appear to any reasonable person as the lowballing of rates.”

The Barclays settlement with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Justice Department and Financial Services Authority of Britain has been a black mark for the bank. The scandal has already prompted the resignation of the bank’s chairman, Marcus Agius; its chief executive, Robert Diamond; and a top deputy, Jerry del Missier.

As it tries to control the damage, Barclays is framing a defense around the notion that regulators approved the actions. Last week, the bank released information about dozens of conversations with the Bank of England, the New York Fed and other government agencies.

In one call with the Financial Services Authority, a Barclays manager acknowledged that the bank was understating its Libor submissions. “So, to the extent that, um, the Libors have been understated, are we guilty of being part of the pack? You could say we are,” the Barclays manager said, according to regulatory documents.

The bank also discussed its Libor rates twice with the Bank of England in fall 2008, according to documents Barclays released last week. Additional evidence has emerged that the British central bank first held discussions about Libor with Mr. del Missier a year earlier, in late 2007, said a person briefed on the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Authorities are also focused on Barclays’ conversations with the New York Fed, including discussions between senior bank employees and officials from the Fed’s trading desk, according to another person briefed on the matter, who also requested anonymity.

In the letter to the New York Fed, Mr. Neugebauer requested transcripts of the calls by Friday.

“The role of the government is to ensure that our capital markets are run with the highest standards of honesty, integrity and transparency” Mr. Neugebauer said on Monday. “The interest rate manipulation scandal clearly demonstrates that these principles were violated by Barclays and, from what we understand, other banks as well. My request to the New York Fed is a preliminary step to understanding what role, if any, the regulators played in this scandal.”

In a statement, a New York Fed spokeswoman said that during the financial crisis “we received occasional anecdotal reports from Barclays of problems with Libor.” Ultimately, the New York Fed made “further inquiry of Barclays as to how Libor submissions were being conducted” and offered “suggestions for reform of Libor” to British authorities.

Under sharp questioning by British political leaders on Monday, Mr. Tucker, considered a front-runner to succeed Mervyn A. King as the next head of the Bank of England, defended the central bank and his professional future. Committee members focused their questioning on a conversation that Mr. Tucker had with Mr. Diamond in October 2008.

According to an e-mail trail, Mr. Tucker contacted Mr. Diamond, saying he was “struck” that Barclays was paying a high interest rate on its loans.

Mr. Tucker testified that his conversations with Mr. Diamond were meant to convey that the financial markets were questioning whether the British bank had access to capital.

Barclays last week also released documents saying that at least some bank executives believed Mr. Tucker had instructed them to lower the Libor submissions. That belief, some regulators say, stemmed from a “miscommunication,” rather than instructions from Mr. Tucker. The bank also never explicitly told regulators that it was reporting false interest rates that amounted to manipulation, according to regulatory documents.

Mr. Tucker on Monday flatly denied that he authorized, or even knew about, any improper actions. “We were not aware of it, other than what is starting to come out in these investigations,” he said.

Underscoring the point, he noted that the Bank of England used the rate to set its Special Liquidity Scheme, in which the government lent local banks more than $310 billion from 2008 to 2011.

Still, British politicians criticized Mr. Tucker for not taking a more active role in policing the banks. When asked whether he was confident that the Libor manipulation had stopped, Mr. Tucker wavered.

“I can’t be confident about anything after learning about this cesspit,” he replied.

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/07/09/libor-scandal-intensifies-spotlight-on-bank-regulators/?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: Dimon, Testifying Before House, Sticks to Script

Daniel Rosenbaum for The New York TimesJamie Dimon at the Senate committee hearing on Tuesday.

WASHINGTON — Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, tussled with lawmakers on Tuesday in his second showdown in Washington since JPMorgan, the nation’s largest bank, disclosed a multibillion-dollar trading loss.

At a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee, members peppered Mr. Dimon, once considered Washington’s favorite banker, with pointed questions about the bank’s aggressive lobbying, its failures in risk management and its focus on complex bets in the credit markets instead of lending.

Unlike their Senate counterparts, who accorded Mr. Dimon more deferential treatment last week, House lawmakers demanded answers. At one point, Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who helped write the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory overhaul, told Mr. Dimon to “stop filibustering” and said that he was frankly “disappointed” with some of the banker’s answers.

The hearing was the latest chapter of the trading debacle, which has drawn new cries from lawmakers for tougher oversight of the nation’s banks and spurred wide-ranging inquiries by regulators and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Revealing the most among her counterparts about those investigations, Mary L. Schapiro, the chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, told the panel in a session ahead of Mr. Dimon’s testimony that the agency was focused on whether the bank was forthcoming with investors.

Mr. Dimon said, “We disclosed what we knew when we knew it.”

He sought Tuesday to fend off implications that he misled investors on a now-infamous April 13 conference call, when he dismissed reports of potentially risky trading in the credit markets as a “tempest in a teapot.”

Mr. Dimon offered scant new details about the size of the trading losses. At one point during the hearing, Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, seemed to snare Mr. Dimon with questions about when he understood the full extent of the losses. After briefly speaking with his general counsel, seated behind him, Mr. Dimon said that he had no idea about the full extent of the losses until late April.

But in a later exchange with Representative Randy Neugebauer, Republican of Texas, Mr. Dimon admitted knowing that on April 10 the bank had a $300 million loss from the position, raising questions about his disclosures at the time.

“That’s a pretty big pop, even in your organization,” the congressman said.

Democratic House members grilled Mr. Dimon about the bank’s aggressive lobbying in Washington, which was specifically aimed at watering down the Volcker Rule that would ban banks from making bets with their own money.

A frequent visitor to Washington, Mr. Dimon defended the bank’s right to influence lawmakers. “Lobbying is a constitutional right and we have a right to have our voice heard,” Mr. Dimon said.

Even as he apologized for the trading blunder, which was made in the bank’s chief investment office and has grown to at least $3 billion, Mr. Dimon emphasized that the loss was an “isolated incident.” As in the Senate hearing, he said the unit’s London office “embarked on a complex strategy” that became an indefensible position that created greater risks. He reiterated that the bank “let a lot of people down, and we are sorry for it.”

Many of the committee members were not appeased.

Mr. Frank, for instance, asked Mr. Dimon twice whether his own compensation, which stood at $23 million last year, would be clawed back by the board.

Mr. Dimon said that was up to the directors.

Several House members focused on why the bank put billions of dollars into risky trading rather than use that cash to make more loans to small- and medium-size businesses. If the bank made more loans, several lawmakers argued, the chief investment office that housed more than $300 billion — the difference between the bank’s broad deposit base and the loans extended — could have dodged losses.

In his prepared statement, Mr. Dimon said the bank was focused on serving clients and had made $116 billion in loans to midsize companies, up 16 percent from the same period a year ago. Both Mr. Frank and Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, highlighted the soured trades made by the London office as further evidence that all trading should be subject to rules being determined in Washington. Along with industry rivals, Mr. Dimon has long countered that trades booked offshore should be exempt, arguing that such demands would hamper the nation’s banks in competing abroad.

Throughout the hearing, a bipartisan chorus pressed Mr. Dimon about the size of JPMorgan, demanding to know if it was too big to fail. Representative Sean Duffy, Republican of Wisconsin, focused on Mr. Dimon’s own failure to spot the troubled bet as evidence that the bank’s risk-taking was too unwieldy.

“No, we’re not too big to fail,” Mr. Dimon said. But if the bank did fail, he said, any losses should be charged back to the financial system, not shouldered by taxpayers.

Asked by Mr. Duffy whether it was possible for JPMorgan to suffer a trillion-dollar loss, Mr. Dimon responded, not “unless the Earth is hit by the moon.”

Mr. Dimon said that there should be specific limits on the types of trades that failed. In this case, however, he said, not enough limits were erected.

Earlier Tuesday, lawmakers pushed a panel of the bank’s five regulators on how they missed the increasingly risky trades.

“Even with the matrix of communication, no one was catching it,” Representative Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, said. “Is the communication really working?”

The officials acknowledged that their agencies were unaware of the losses until news media reports in early April.

Thomas J. Curry, comptroller of the currency, said his office was “initially relying on the information available to the bank.” Scott Alvarez, the general counsel of the Federal Reserve, concurred, noting that, “We have to rely on information we get from the organization itself.” If that is flawed, he added, then regulators will have a problem.

Gary Gensler, chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, underscored how the trading loss had broader implications for potential rules that would apply to the global financial system. He said that by placing the risky trades in London, JPMorgan’s bets escaped the view of American regulators. Mr. Gensler said he hoped to close that gap soon, so that Wall Street would have “rules of the road.”

Mr. Frank and Republicans traded barbs over Dodd-Frank throughout the hearing, with some blaming it for allowing trading losses like that at JPMorgan.

“You can see we’re not ready to break into a kumbaya,” Representative Spencer Bachus, an Alabama Republican and the committee’s chairman, told the regulators in a moment of levity. “Welcome to the serenity of the Financial Services Committee.”


This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 21, 2012

An article on Wednesday about the testimony of Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase’s chief executive, before a committee of the House of Representatives misidentified the state represented by the committee’s chairman, Spencer Bachus. It is Alabama, not Texas.

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/06/19/dimon-testifying-before-house-sticks-to-script/?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: For Jim Himes, Wall Street Ties Swing From Asset to Liability

Representative Jim Himes, right, at Norden Systems, a division of Northrop Grumman, at its campus in Norwalk, Conn. Mr. Himes worked at Goldman Sachs for 12 years.Josh Haner/The New York TimesRepresentative Jim Himes, right, at Norden Systems, a division of Northrop Grumman, at its campus in Norwalk, Conn. Mr. Himes previously worked at Goldman Sachs for 12 years.

Jim Himes, a second-term congressman from Connecticut, is a surviving member of one of Washington’s most endangered species: a Democrat with Wall Street ties.

A former Goldman Sachs banker whose district includes the hedge fund capitals of Greenwich and Stamford, Conn., Mr. Himes understands the world of high finance better than most of his Congressional peers. And lately, as a series of contentious regulatory and tax proposals has brought the moneyed class under fire, he has been playing the part of a Wall Street whisperer, trying to bring well-heeled Democrats in the financial industry back to the party that has made villains of them.

“I do hear anger,” Mr. Himes said in a recent interview. “Many of them know me from my previous life, and they do call me and say, ‘What the hell is going on?’ ”

Mr. Himes, 45, once benefited from his Wall Street past. His 12-year career at Goldman played well with voters near his Greenwich home during his first campaign in 2008, and he brought in more than $500,000 in donations from the securities and investments industry, nearly $150,000 of which came from individuals at Goldman.

Shortly after he beat out the incumbent, Christopher Shays, to win the seat, his expertise landed him a plum assignment on the House Financial Services Committee, where he helped write the House version of the Dodd-Frank Act, the financial regulatory overhaul. Christopher S. Murphy, a fellow Connecticut Democrat, recalled seeing Mr. Himes giving impromptu economics lessons on the House floor during debates over the contentious bill.

“There was always a crowd around Jim,” Mr. Murphy recalled. “He very quickly became a safe harbor for moderate members who wanted to make sure we corrected the abuses of Wall Street without killing the markets.”

But this year, Mr. Himes’s financial background went from asset to liability. During the debt ceiling debate this summer, President Obama took aim at bankers and hedge fund managers, characterizing their tax rates as unfairly low and calling for an end to corporate tax loopholes. Mr. Obama repeated those calls in the budget debate this month, and recently proposed a minimum tax rate for people making more than $1 million a year, a provision he called the Buffett Rule, after the billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett.

For Mr. Himes, whose district has one of the highest concentrations of millionaires in the country, each new instance of fiery rhetoric meant more phone calls and e-mails from financiers angry about their status as left-wing punching bags.

“I like Jim, but I feel sorry for the guy,” said one hedge fund manager in Mr. Himes’s district, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid damaging his relationship with the congressman. “Every time Obama says ‘fat cat banker’ and ‘greedy hedge fund manager,’ I’m sure he cringes.”

With a neat side part, a sharp jaw and the trim physique of a former Harvard lightweight crew captain, Mr. Himes, a Rhodes Scholar who once modeled for Ralph Lauren, still looks every bit the financial executive. In 2002, he left Goldman to take a job at Enterprise Community Partners, an affordable housing nonprofit, where he stayed until running for office in 2008.

Asked about his time at Goldman, Mr. Himes said he thought the company’s culture had changed between 1990, when he joined it as a junior banker in its Latin American division, and when he left it nearly a decade ago.

“When I joined it was a firm of 4,000 people, and when I left it was a firm of 22,000,” he said. “When it was a firm of 4,000, all the partners knew each other, and if somebody screwed up, it meant you were going to hurt your friends. Now that it’s a corporation, you’ve lost that sense of family.”

Mr. Himes, who was born in Peru during one of his father’s stints abroad as an executive with the Ford Foundation, is not eager to become known as the big-bank congressman, despite his fond memories of working at Goldman. He has fanned out his political interests in recent years, working on legislation on energy-efficient housing and early childhood education. And last week, he held a rally in Norwalk to celebrate the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for openly gay service members.

As Mr. Himes prepares to run for a third term, his focus on issues beyond Wall Street may be a nod to the current mood toward the financial services sector.

“I don’t know that any politician, let alone a Democratic politician, is going to score points with his constituents by talking about his connections to the hedge fund industry,” said Bruce McGuire, the president of the Connecticut Hedge Fund Association.

But Mr. Himes also said that the emotions stirred up by the financial crisis had made reforming Wall Street using his preferred method — logical, Spock-like analysis — nearly impossible.

“You don’t always feel it in Greenwich or the Upper East Side, but there’s a huge emotional dislocation out there,” he said. “Americans think this is an unproductive sector, and it’s a little hard to talk about capital formation in the context of the emotion.”

Mr. Himes, who wears a blue woven bead bracelet given to him by a Zen master, has been trying to calm the furor surrounding Wall Street by staking out middle ground in many of the financial issues facing legislators. He favors regulating some kinds of derivatives, the exotic instruments that Mr. Buffett once called “financial weapons of mass destruction,” while leaving others intact, like crop futures used by farmers to hedge against price swings.

He also has a tempered view on the issue of carried interest, the type of income earned by some hedge fund and private equity managers that is taxed at lower rates than ordinary income. Mr. Himes favors a blended rate that would tax carried interest above the lower capital gains rate but below the rate paid on ordinary income, to accommodate the different kinds of risk taken on by investors.

“The good news is, I can talk about alternate swap-execution facilities,” Mr. Himes said of his approach to legislating. “The bad news is, my whole being is about having a fairly cool conversation about what’s happening. I don’t throw bombs. Michele Bachmann is a lot more fun than I am.”

But if Mr. Himes’s conciliatory streak has hurt his image, it has also made him an asset to moderate Democrats who are looking to reform the markets without resorting to vitriol. And as 2012 approaches, his ability to speak the language of the ultra-rich may come in handy for Democratic politicians — the president included — who have seen their Wall Street campaign donations dry up.

“Look, there are some Wall Street guys who are never coming back to the Democratic Party,” said Mr. Murphy, Mr. Himes’s colleague in Congress. “But Jim is a committed Democrat who can also show the financial world that not all of us have two horns.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=6002e512551f9442467120b8597037e2

S.E.C. Refers Ex-Counsel’s Actions on Madoff to Justice Dept.

Mr. Becker had financial ties through his family to an account with Mr. Madoff that he inherited with his brothers in 2004 and quickly closed. The Beckers have since been sued by the trustee overseeing the Madoff case, who is seeking to recover about $1.5 million in gains they received. Mr. Becker’s work at the S.E.C. in 2009 included advising on the compensation of Madoff victims, including how much they could recover.

The referral was part of an investigation into whether it was appropriate for Mr. Becker to work on Madoff-related matters at the commission given his financial tie. The 119-page report on Mr. Becker’s actions was undertaken by H. David Kotz, the inspector general of the S.E.C. Mr. Kotz wrote that he is referring the matter to federal prosecutors after consulting last month with the Office of Government Ethics and receiving its recommendation to do so.

The report is another black eye for an agency already under scrutiny for missing the Madoff scandal and more recently for routine destruction of some enforcement documents that may have been useful in later investigations.

Mr. Becker was involved in developing the S.E.C.’s recommendations for the distribution of money among Madoff victims, the report said.

The report, which was obtained by The New York Times, will be at the center of a joint hearing on Thursday of the House Financial Services Committee and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Mary L. Schapiro, the chairwoman of the S.E.C., is expected to testify alongside Mr. Kotz and Mr. Becker.

Based on extensive e-mails, interviews and memorandums, the report says that Mr. Becker was treated differently from other S.E.C. employees who had ties to the Madoff family, and that Mr. Becker was allowed to advise on the commission’s recommendations related to the Madoff case despite his own financial interest.

Randy Neugebauer, the Texas Republican who chairs the oversight and investigations subcommittee of the financial services committee, said on Monday that the hearing “will examine whether there needs to be process improvements at the commission to vet conflicts of interest in a way that gives the public confidence. The Becker matter raises serious questions about the decision-making by senior management at the S.E.C.”

Ms. Schapiro said in a statement Tuesday morning that the commission will redo a critical vote on the way Madoff victims are compensated, as was recommended by the report.

 She declined to comment on the criminal referral but noted that she had asked Mr. Kotz to conduct the inquiry. And she said of Mr. Becker, who worked at the commission in two different periods: “I do want to state that I’ve known David for many years to be a talented, highly skilled lawyer and a dedicated civil servant who served under three chairmen.”

William R. Baker III, a lawyer at Latham Watkins who spent 15 years as associate director of enforcement at the S.E.C., working alongside Mr. Becker at times, now represents him.

Mr. Baker declined to comment until he had read the report.

Ms. Schapiro is mentioned in several parts of the report. In one incident in 2009, Mr. Becker was preparing to testify before a House subcommittee that was holding a hearing on compensation of Madoff victims. After he told an S.E.C. staff member that he would want to disclose his mother’s Madoff investment if he testified, the staff member met with Ms. Schapiro and the pair decided that someone other than Mr. Becker should speak at the hearing.

The report concluded: “The decision that Becker would not serve as a witness was made in large part because he would have disclosed the fact that his mother had held a Madoff account.”

Mr. Kotz interviewed individuals who were at the commission while Mr. Becker was working on matters related to the Madoff victims. One person was William Lenox, the ethics official who reported to Mr. Becker and determined that his work on Madoff-related issues at the commission posed no conflict. Mr. Lenox indicated to Mr. Kotz that he did not keep records of his rulings on employees’ ethics questions because of the sensitive nature of the information that was disclosed to him.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: September 20, 2011

An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Luis A. Aguilar as a Republican. He is a Democrat.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=8c791c2da8cdb0dae4014908420b2c94

DealBook: Barney Frank, Financial Overhaul’s Defender in Chief

A year ago Thursday, Barney Frank notched the biggest win of his three-decade Congressional career, as he ushered the financial regulatory overhaul that bears his name into law.

Today, the Dodd-Frank act is under siege and behind schedule. As worries mount that new regulations could hamper the nation’s economic recovery, lobbyists are conducting a full-on attack to try to undo or significantly weaken the law.

Despite the setbacks, the Massachusetts Democrat is still confident Dodd-Frank will help prevent a repeat of the financial crisis.

“I think we have a very good structure in place that will diminish the likelihood of another collapse caused by financial irresponsibility,” Mr. Frank said during a recent interview on Capitol Hill, looking disheveled in his customary dark suit and red-and-blue striped tie. “On the whole, I’m very pleased with how it worked out.”

Last summer, Mr. Frank overcame fierce opposition from Republican lawmakers and Wall Street lobbyists to remake the financial regulatory landscape.

Named after Mr. Frank and Senator Christopher Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who has since left Congress, the law was intended to rein in the opaque derivatives market, tighten lending standards and address other structural problems that led to the crisis.

A year later, Mr. Frank has positioned himself as the law’s chief defender. Since leaving the Senate early this year, Mr. Dodd has shied away from discussing the measure. (He declined to comment for this article.)

Now that Mr. Dodd is a registered lobbyist representing the motion picture industry, federal law prohibits the two men from chatting about their law for a year. Just this month, Mr. Frank said he went to pick up the phone to call his former colleague before remembering the ban.

Mr. Frank, a 16-term representative who was chairman of the House Financial Services Committee during the fallout from the crisis, said the regulatory overhaul was “clearly the best we’ve ever done in the history of the country to protect consumers and investors from abuses.”

Not surprisingly, Wall Street is less fond of the new rules. Bank executives have torn into the law, claiming it will cost them billions of dollars. They also warn that some regulations will push business overseas, where international regulators have yet to enact similar rules.

But the army of banking industry lobbyists will not find a sympathetic ear from Mr. Frank.

“To some extent, financial institutions have latched onto the motto of a 14-year-old child of divorced parents playing mommy off against daddy: ‘Well, if you don’t treat me better, I’m going to England,’ ” said Mr. Frank, known for his sarcastic wit.

“I hate to say this, but the impression I get most is that their feelings are hurt,” he continued. “Mostly what I get is, ‘Oh, you were rude to us. You said we were fat cats.’ ”

His response? “Get over it. I’m in the kind of business where people say rude things about us all the time.”

Despite the rhetoric, Mr. Frank says Wall Street has gradually adjusted to the new reality. Most banks have spun off their proprietary trading desks, as required, and many are rethinking their derivatives business.

Mr. Frank says he believes the greater threat to Dodd-Frank comes from Congressional Republicans. Over the last several months, conservative lawmakers have moved to chip away at crucial components, the derivatives rules among them. Some two dozen bills are pending in Congress to delay, dismantle or repeal the law altogether.

Under pressure from lawmakers and lobbyists, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission recently decided to postpone some derivatives rules for up to six months. The agency, like other regulators, has already missed many rule-making deadlines.

“They are trying to stall,” Mr. Frank said of the Republicans, “and then hope that they will win the 2012 election with the support of the financial people.” Once in control of Washington, he said, Republicans would “then undo what we were able to do, and then, yes, the system would be at risk.”

Eager to act, Republicans are already taking aim at financial regulators and their budgets. In June, a House committee approved a plan to keep the Securities and Exchange Commission budget flat. And some lawmakers are now seeking outright cuts. Without increased funding, regulators say they lack the resources to enforce Dodd-Frank.

Some critics of the law contend that it skimped on the details, leaving regulatory agencies with too heavy a burden. Mr. Frank said Congress had no other choice.

“We didn’t punt anything,” he said. “It’s precisely because we knew we couldn’t get everything exactly right that we did leave room for the regulators.”

The agencies have yet to disappoint, he said. So far, the S.E.C., the commodities commission and other agencies have proposed dozens of new rules under difficult conditions, earning a grade of “A” from Mr. Frank.

“I think the regulators have done very well, with the exception of the Comptroller of the Currency,” which he said had a reputation for forming cozy relationships with the national banks under its purview. Mr. Frank would give the comptroller a “D.”

An agency spokesman declined to comment.

Mr. Frank, a stubborn advocate for Dodd-Frank, is quick to acknowledge its shortcomings. “If I were writing it all by myself,” he said, “it would have looked a little different.”

He said he never liked the provision to cap the fees banks could charge retail stores every time a consumer swiped a debit card, a measure inserted by Senator Richard Durbin, Democrat of Illinois.

He also wanted to give the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new watchdog created by the law, authority over car dealerships. But the dealers rallied allies in Congress and won an exemption from the agency’s oversight.

The battle over the bureau has since shifted to its leadership. After a delay of nearly a year, President Obama this week nominated the bureau’s enforcement chief, Richard Cordray, to lead the new agency. He was chosen over Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard professor who is currently setting up the bureau.

Mr. Frank supports Mr. Cordray, though he is not shy about saying that Ms. Warren was his “first choice.” He had urged the president to appoint Ms. Warren since early this year, most recently during a private meeting about a month ago.

Mr. Franks hopes the ongoing battles will soon fade, in part so he can move on to the next fight. Even he admits that arcane financial matters were never his strong point.

“I know more now about repos and derivatives than I ever wanted to know,” he joked. “I hope I’ll some day be able to forget it.”

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2011/07/20/barney-frank-financial-overhauls-defender-in-chief/?partner=rss&emc=rss