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January 6, 2014

Financial Reform Friday Newsletter – 12/20/2013

Financial Reform Friday Newsletter
December 20, 2013
A year-end look at regulating Wall Street. Better Markets President and CEO Dennis Kelleher joined New York Times Columnist Gretchen Morgenson on Minnesota Public Radio’s “The Daily Circuit.” The show covered the year in financial regulation, including last week’s vote to finalize the Volcker Rule, the crime spree on Wall Street, JP Morgan Chase’s illegal conduct, and changing the risk-taking culture at the too-big-to-fail Wall Street banks. Also, Better Markets Senior Fellow Robert Jenkins, in a letter to the editor of The Independent, suggested that one way for large banks to change their culture is to put the needs of customers ahead of short-term profits. Mr. Jenkins is spearheading efforts to encourage the investment community to become a major voice for protecting and advancing the interests of investors in the financial markets.
Why haven’t any high-level executives been prosecuted for the financial crisis? Federal District Court Judge Jed Rakoff examines why the Department of Justice has failed to charge a single Wall Street executive in the aftermath of the financial crash. The DOJ has historically prosecuted executives responsible for economic crimes and illegality, such as the savings and loan crisis and the Enron fraud. Yet in refusing to hold individual Wall Street executives accountable for the worst financial crash since 1929 and the worst economy since the Great Depression of the 1930’s, the government has created a double standard by failing to enforce the rule of law on Wall Street as it has on Main Street. As Better Markets has said, it is inexcusable and indefensible not to hold big, powerful, well-connected banks and bankers on Wall Street accountable when they break the law. This only rewards and incentivizes more crime.
The Volcker Rule is already working. In the week since financial regulators finalized the Volcker Rule, there is already evidence that the rule is having a positive impact on financial sector risks. According to Bloomberg, Zions Bankcorporation is preparing to offload a large amount of high-risk assets accumulated before the financial crisis. The assets in question were exactly the kind of risky proprietary derivative positions that were so destructive in the run up to the financial crisis. While Wall Street and its DC lobbyists have predictably bemoaned and misrepresented Zions’ action, this is precisely the type of risk reduction by banks that the Volcker Rule was designed to accomplish. Over at the New York Times, Floyd Norris has the history of why Zions entered into the risky proprietary trades in the first place. While very few banks hold the type of assets in question and Zions holds a much larger stockpile than even the biggest Wall Street banks, bank lobbyists have asked regulators to let them off the hook. This is the first of what will likely be many industry-led efforts to baselessly criticize and get around the rule. Wall Street lobbyists are expert at persuading regulators to see things their way. Better Markets will be watching the regulators to make sure that the rule is enforced as intended and that the American people are protected from such high risk activities.
JP Morgan Chase sues FDIC as more DOJ sweetheart settlements near. A few weeks after agreeing to its backroom, sweetheart deal with the Department of Justice, JP Morgan Chase sued the FDIC for close to $1 billion for liabilities related to its acquisition of Washington Mutual. As the FDIC and others have pointed out, however, JP Morgan assumed those liabilities when it bought WaMu at a fire sale price in 2008, which, as the Better Markets Fact Sheet on the DOJ settlement detailed, has been an exceptionally profitable investment for JP Morgan. Meanwhile, more sweetheart deals could be in the works for Wall Street banks. According to Reuters, the DOJ is preparing to bring charges against Citigroup and Merrill Lynch for crisis-era mortgage securities frauds, but reportedly those settlements will be based on JP Morgan’s sweetheart deal.


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