“Mary Jo White, the new chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, has gotten off on the wrong foot. Last week, in her first commission vote, Ms. White led the commissioners in approving a proposal that, if finalized, could leave investors and taxpayers exposed to the ravages of reckless bank trading.
“At issue is the regulation of the multitrillion-dollar market in derivatives. When speculative derivative bets go right, the results are lavish bank profits and huge banker paydays. When they go wrong, the results are shareholder losses and taxpayer-provided bailouts. Even when derivatives are used in a relatively prudent manner — say, to hedge against price swings in food or fuel — the largely deregulated and opaque way they are traded allows the big banks that dominate the market to charge more than they could if trading were more transparent, enriching bankers at the expense of businesses and consumers.
“The S.E.C. proposal would let the foreign branches of American banks avoid rules being developed under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and instead follow rules that prevail in the foreign countries where the deals are done. Foreign banks involved in derivative deals with American companies also could adhere to their own country’s rules as long as those rules are deemed broadly comparable to Dodd-Frank rules.”
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