Friday, August 19, 2011

Too Big To Fail Banks Are Bigger

The 2,319 page Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, commonly called the Dodd-Frank bill -- named after its architects, former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd, now a Hollywood millionaire mogul, and U.S. Rep. Barney Frank – was supposed to insure that big banks could fail, obviating the need for expensive taxpayer bailouts.

A ban on bailouts is written into the legislation. Among the tools in the bill’s toolbox is a provision that provides for an orderly winding down of bankrupt firms. The bill includes a proposal that the Federal Reserve (the "Fed") receive authorization from the Treasury for extensions of credit in "unusual or exigent circumstances";

The ban on bailouts, which removes the principal protection that spurred those inept business practices that gave rise to the effective bankruptcy of major banks in the United States considered “too big to fail,” has not persuaded rating agencies to downgrade the banks.

Why not?

If the federal umbrella has been removed that in the past prevented “too big to fail” banks such as such as Bank of America, Citigroup or JP Morgan from getting wet in the same rainstorms that affect non-protected industries, why hasn’t Standard & Poor’s downgraded the Big Banks?

S&P has “pointedly disputed the often-stated claim on Capitol Hill that the legislation had put an end to ‘too big to fail’ and the era of federal bailouts,” according to an analytical piece in The Washington Times:

“S&P thinks ‘the government in a handful of situations may be forced to provide some sort of support to an institution,’ especially if the failure of the bank threatens the economy and well-being of ordinary Americans, as occurred in the fall of 2008, said S&P managing director Rodrigo Quantanilla. S&P cited the long history of bank bailouts in times of economic stress as well as what it sees as ambiguities in the Wall Street reform law.”
The big banks have become bigger and more powerful. The county’s six largest banks -- JP Morgan, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley – controlled assets equal to 17 percent of the U.S. Economy in 2008, the year of the financial crisis. Their combined assets today equals 64 percent of economic output, and they control nearly half of all bank deposits in the U.S, according Joshua Rosner, managing director of Graham Fisher & Co. and author of a book on the financial debacle.

"In fact, the Dodd-Frank law reinforces the market perception that a small and elite group of large firms are different from the rest," Mr. Rosner said, “by designating those banks as ‘systemically important.’”
Breaking up banks that are “too big to fail” is the most certain way to assure that taxpayers will not be on the hook in a future bailout, but congress last year repeatedly rejected such measures. An alternative, Mr. Rosner suggest, might be to require the top executives of such banks to pay dearly when their banks fail.

Though Mr. Dodd has moved from the U.S. Senate to Hollywood -- a step up in salary and, according to the latest public opinion polls, prestige -- the real consequences of Dodd-Frank bill will weigh heavily on a U.S. economy wracked by legislative and presidential nincompoopery.

Dodd-Frank, thought by its architects to provide a check on capitalist greed, will instead promote crony-capitalism, increase the pressure of the already deadening hand of the federal government on businesses, undermine what is left of the free market in the United States, limit true competition and favor capitalists of choice over capitalism.

Dodd-Frank will kick in as a second deeper and perhaps more intractable recession looms on the horizon, spurred on by European financial incompetence and an equally incompetent U.S. government government that has shown it cannot repair its debt or curb its looming entitlement costs. This brew of breathtaking stupidity very well may provide the spark that will set off a double dip recession both in Europe and the United States
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