Money market funds (MMFs) have, since the 2008 financial crisis, been deemed part of the nefarious shadow banking industry and targeted for regulatory reform. In my paper, The Broken Buck Stops Here: Embracing Sponsor Support in Money Market Fund Reform, I critically evaluate the logic behind current reform proposals, demonstrating that none of the proposals is likely to be effective in addressing the primary source of MMF stability—redemption demands in times of economic resources that impose pressure on MMF liquidity. In addition, inherent limitations in the mechanisms for calculating the fair value of MMF assets present a practical limitation on the utility of a floating NAV. I then offer an unprecedented alternative approach—mandatory sponsor support. My proposal would require MMF sponsors to commit to supporting their funds as a condition of offering a fund with a fixed $1 NAV.
Archive for the ‘Banking & Financial Institutions’ Category
Where do we go from here? As we mark another milestone in regulatory reform with the fourth anniversary of the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Act, it strikes us that although most studies required to be undertaken by the Act have been released and final rules have been promulgated addressing many of the most important regulatory measures, we are still living with a great deal of regulatory uncertainty and extraordinary regulatory complexity.
Legal and economic issues involving mandatory public disclosure have centered on the appropriateness of either Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules or the D.C. Circuit review of SEC rule-making. In this longstanding disclosure universe, the focus has been on the ends of investor protection and market efficiency, and implementation by means of annual reports and other SEC-prescribed documents.
In 2013, these common understandings became obsolete when a new system for public disclosure became effective, the first since the SEC’s creation in 1934. Today, major banks must make disclosures mandated not only by the SEC, but also by a new system developed by the Federal Reserve and other bank regulators in the shadow of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision and the Dodd-Frank Act. This independent, bank regulator-developed system has ends and means that diverge from the SEC system. The bank regulator system is directed not at the ends of investor protection and market efficiency, but instead at the well-being of the bank entities themselves and the minimization of systemic risk. This new system, which stemmed in significant part from a belief that disclosures on the complex risks flowing from modern financial innovation were manifestly inadequate, already dwarfs the SEC system in sophistication on the quantitative aspects of market risk and the impact of economic stress.
Our mid-year report one year ago presented an exciting opportunity to discuss a time of great change at the SEC. A new Chair and a new Director of Enforcement had recently assumed the reins and begun making bold policy pronouncements. One year later, things have stabilized somewhat. The hot-button issues identified early in the new SEC administration—admissions for settling parties, a growing number of trials (and, for the agency, trial losses), and a renewed focus on public company accounting—remain the leading issues a year later, albeit with some interesting developments.
The subtler aspects of the Volcker Rule  continue to emerge. One of the subtleties is the extraterritorial reach of the Rule in connection with underwriting, investments in, and market making for covered bonds by foreign banks.
Foreign banks that underwrite, invest in, or conduct market making for covered bonds need to review their activity under the Volcker Rule.
On June 10, 2014, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (the “Federal Reserve”), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (collectively, the “Banking Agencies”) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) released substantially identical Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”) addressing six topics regarding the implementation of section 13 of the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956, as amended, commonly known as the “Volcker Rule.”
The financial crisis that began in 2007 prompted a tidal wave of thinking about financial regulation. One major theme that has been pursued by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, journalists, and scholars—most recently in Other People’s Houses, by Jennifer Taub—is the question of what went wrong in the years or decades leading up the crisis. A second strand of research answers the question of what substantive regulations we should have; one important book in this genre is The Banker’s New Clothes, by Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig. But beyond the issue of what regulations are appropriate for today’s complex financial system, a third important area of inquiry is the political and administrative landscape in which financial regulations (whether statutes, rules, administrative guidances, or court opinions) are hammered out. After all, if it were somehow possible to design a perfect regulatory framework, it could only become effective by navigating through the complicated web of interests and incentives that encompasses the legislative and executive (and perhaps judicial) branches.
More than six months after the release of final Volcker Rule regulations, banking organizations continue to grapple with a long list of interpretive questions and an opaque process for seeking clarity from the Volcker agencies. Regulatory silence broke for a brief moment this past week in the form of a short interagency FAQ and, from the OCC, interim examination guidelines for assessing banking entities’ progress toward Volcker Rule compliance during the conformance period.
Neither document is a significant source of new guidance or interpretive gloss. Nonetheless, the OCC guidelines evidence the staff’s intention to begin detailed inquiries into banks’ conformance efforts to date and suggest a higher standard for interim compliance than many may have expected. It remains to be seen whether the other Volcker agencies take the same approach.
The Dodd-Frank Act established that certain swap contracts which previously were traded bilaterally (directly between buyers and sellers) must be traded through clearinghouses instead. Critics of this clearing mandate have mounted two main objections: a clearinghouse shifts risk instead of reducing it; and a clearinghouse could fail, requiring a bailout. In my article Clearinghouses as Liquidity Partitioning, recently published in the Cornell Law Review, I counter both objections by showing that clearinghouses engage in a socially valuable function that I term liquidity partitioning. Liquidity partitioning means that when one of its member firms becomes bankrupt, a clearinghouse keeps a portion of the firm’s most liquid assets, and a matching portion of its short‑term debt, out of the bankruptcy estate. The clearinghouse then applies the first toward immediate repayment of the second. Economic value is created because the surviving clearinghouse members are paid much more quickly than they would be in a bankruptcy proceeding. Meanwhile, the bankrupt member’s outside creditors are not paid any less quickly: they still are paid at the end of the bankruptcy proceeding, which the clearinghouse does nothing to prolong. These rapid cash payouts for clearinghouse members reduce illiquidity and uncertainty in the financial sector, the main causes of contagion in a crisis. And because the clearinghouse holds only liquid assets, it avoids the maturity mismatch between short‑term liabilities and long‑term assets that characterizes the balance sheets of many financial institutions. A clearinghouse therefore is much less likely than its members to fail during a crisis.
A clearinghouse achieves liquidity partitioning by engaging in netting. Thus, when a member fails, the clearinghouse uses short‑term debts owed to the member to immediately repay short‑term debts owed by the member. In this way, cash is intercepted on its way toward the bankruptcy estate and redirected toward other financial firms, who may be suffering their own liquidity shortages. The clearinghouse thereby shifts cash from lower-value to higher-value uses, decreasing liquidity pressure on the financial sector and thus the need during a crisis for a taxpayer-funded bailout.
The Dodd-Frank Act was undoubtedly a thorough re-working of the regulatory paradigm for banks and other financial institutions. But no less resolute are the intentions of U.S. banking regulators to carry regulatory reform further, based in significant part on perceived “macroprudential” authority after Dodd-Frank. The new regulatory paradigm will increasingly leave behind bank regulation’s traditional moorings in the protection of federally insured deposits and safe and sound operation of banking organizations. Instead, “macroprudential” regulation will rest on the goals of protecting U.S. financial stability and reducing systemic risk—broad, malleable concepts that elude precise definition. It will seek to influence activities not just of banking organizations but also activities conducted by non-bank entities not traditionally subject to prudential regulation. And, according to an important speech given last week by Federal Reserve Governor Daniel K. Tarullo, the new regulatory paradigm embraces consideration of a potentially unprecedented expansion of the fiduciary duties of directors of banking institutions. This would give such directors very potent incentives to prioritize supervisory goals—including macroprudential objectives.