The Washington Post reports that Treasury will seek the power to take over insurers, hedge funds, and investment firms. Given the Treasury’s reluctance to assume control over clearly insolvent banks (Citi assuredly, probably Bank of America), it seems curious indeed that it is asking to extend authority that it is patently reluctant to exercise.
Moreover, elements of this appear, to put it mildly, misguided. Insurers are regulated by states. Does the Treasury, in supplanting state authority, intend to put in place the needed supervisory apparatus? Does anyone at Treasury have the foggiest grasp of insurance accounting (which separately, is a bit of a mess)?
And AIG, poster child of insufficient regulation, was overseen at the parent level (which is where the black hole creating Financial Products unit sat) by the Office of Thrift Supervision (no joke), which is an agency of the Treasury! So the Treasury is acting like it needs more authority to prevent future AIG’s when its own agency was responsible for the doomsday machine part of AIG.
And the hedge fund supervision bit probably means less than meets the eye. Even if a lot of them have operations in Fairfield County or Manhattan, a lot are domiciled in the Caymans or Luxembourg. You do need to observe certain forms to make sure the designation sticks (have local counsel, have annual meeting there, etc.) but after the Bear Stearns hedge funds screwed up on that front (setting up funds there but not taking other steps consistent with having them domiciled offshore), other funds may have cleaned up their act.
From the Washington Post:
The Obama administration is considering asking Congress to give the Treasury secretary unprecedented powers to initiate the seizure of non-bank financial companies, such as large insurers, investment firms and hedge funds, whose collapse would damage the broader economy, according to an administration document….
Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner is set to argue for the new powers at a hearing today on Capitol Hill about the furor over bonuses paid to executives at American International Group, which the government has propped up with about $180 billion in federal aid. Administration officials have said that the proposed authority would have allowed them to seize AIG last fall and wind down its operations at less cost to taxpayers.
Yves here. Readers can correct me, but that looks to be utter rubbish. The OTS could have yanked AIG’s license and sued it. The problem is not regulatory authority, the problem is the lack of a special resolution regime of the sort the UK has for putting big complex financial firms into receivership. Merely giving Treasury authority is insufficient without putting in place needed bankruptcy type provisions. That takes thought, and I guarantee that given how behind the eight ball and short staffed Geithner has been, the needed thinking hat not taken place. Back to the piece:
The administration’s proposal contains two pieces. First, it would empower a government agency to take on the new role of systemic risk regulator with broad oversight of any and all financial firms whose failure could disrupt the broader economy. The Federal Reserve is widely considered to be the leading candidate for this assignment. But some critics warn that this could conflict with the Fed’s other responsibilities, particularly its control over monetary policy.
The government also would assume the authority to seize such firms if they totter toward failure.
Besides seizing a company outright, the document states, the Treasury Secretary could use a range of tools to prevent its collapse, such as guaranteeing losses, buying assets or taking a partial ownership stake. Such authority also would allow the government to break contracts, such as the agreements to pay $165 million in bonuses to employees of AIG’s most troubled unit.
The Treasury secretary could act only after consulting with the president and getting a recommendation from two-thirds of the Federal Reserve Board, according to the plan.
Yves again. Given the lack of any mention of a special resolution regime, or intent to develop one, the point of this bill is NOT, appearances to the contrary, to be able to put more firms into receivership. It is to get broader authority to bail them out.