Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Will Obama now bring transparency to all the opaque areas of finance created by Wall Street?

Having won re-election despite Wall Street's overt support of Mitt Romney, will President Obama now embrace bringing transparency to all the opaque corners of the financial system?

With any reflection, President Obama should realize that besides the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Volcker Rule, Dodd-Frank is reform legislation written by and for Wall Street.  It substitutes complex rules/regulations and regulatory oversight, both of which can be gamed by Wall Street, for transparency and market discipline.

Clearly, this is unlikely to meaningfully change Wall Street in a positive manner.

The question is does President Obama want lack of meaningful reform of Wall Street as his legacy.

This question is also linked to his economic policies.  Does President Obama continue to pursue the Japanese Model for handling a bank solvency led financial crisis and protect bank book capital levels and banker bonuses at all cost or does he change and adopt the Swedish Model.

President Obama has 4 years of experience that shows that the US is no different than Japan when it comes to the Japan-style economic slump that results from adoption of the Japanese Model.

Simply put, even with an economy as big and robust as the US economy, the burden of the excess debt in the financial system is too great.  It diverts capital needed for reinvestment and growth to debt service with the result being a stagnant economy if not outright contraction.

President Obama can now chose to adopt the Swedish Model and require the banks to absorb upfront the losses on the excess debt.  This relieves the real economy of the burden of supporting this excess debt and results in the economy growing again.

The decision to adopt the Swedish Model is also a legacy issue.  Does President Obama want to be remembered for putting banker bonuses before the social safety net that protects and takes care of the elderly, the sick, the veterans and the poor?

At the same time, President Obama can also focus on bringing transparency back to all the opaque corners of the financial system.

For banks, he can push to have them required to provide ultra transparency and disclose on an ongoing basis their current global asset, liability and off-balance sheet exposure details.

This has numerous benefits including unfreezing the interbank lending market, preventing future manipulation of interest rates like Libor, enforcing the Volcker Rule prohibition on proprietary trading and reducing in size if not breaking up the Too Big to Fail.

For structured finance securities ranging from covered bonds to securitizations, he can push to have them required to provide observable event based reporting of all activities like payments and delinquencies involving the underlying collateral before the beginning of the next business day.

This has numerous benefits including allowing investors to know what they own and allowing both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to be put into runoff mode as the private mortgage-backed finance market restarts.

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