“IT’S been five years since the bankruptcy filing of Lehman Brothers set off the worst economic crisis in the United States since the Great Depression. With the perspective that distance provides, it’s worth asking: Is our financial system safer and sounder today than it was back then?
“Many of the nation’s bankers, lawmakers and regulators might well say yes, arguing that safeguards have been put in place to protect against another cataclysm. The voluminous Dodd-Frank law, with its hundreds of rules and new regulatory regimes, was the centerpiece of these efforts.
“And yet, for all the new regulations governing derivatives, mortgages and bank holding companies, a crucial vulnerability remains. It’s found in our vast and opaque securities financing system, known as the repurchase obligation or repo market. Now $4.6 trillion in size, it is where almost every financial crisis since the 1980s has begun. Little has been done, however, to reduce its risks.
“The repo market, also known as the wholesale funding market, is the plumbing of the financial system. Without it, money could not flow freely, and banks, brokerage firms and asset managers would not be able to conduct their trades and open for business each day.”
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