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 ‘Financial Crisis’ 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.
The fourth anniversary of the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act provides an opportunity to reflect on why the Act was passed, how the SEC has used the Act to promote financial stability and protect American investors, and what remains to be completed. The financial crisis was devastating, resulting in untold losses for American households and demonstrating the need for strong and effective regulatory action to prevent any recurrence.
During the recent financial crisis, there was a dramatic spike in “idiosyncratic volatility”—the volatility of individual firm share prices after adjustment for movements in the market as a whole. The average firm’s increase was a remarkable five-fold as measured by variance. This dramatic spike is not peculiar to the most recent crisis. Rather, it has occurred with each major downturn in the economy since the 1920s, as our paper shows for the first time. These spikes present a puzzle in terms of existing economic theory. They also have important implications for several areas of corporate and securities law where the capacity of securities prices to reflect available information is particularly important. Examples include the presumption of reliance, loss causation and materiality in fraud-on-the-market suits, materiality in insider trading cases, and the corporate law regulation of defenses undertaken by targets of hostile takeover attempts. The continuing centrality of these issues is underscored by this week’s decision in Halliburton Co v. Erica P. John Fund, where the Supreme Court ruled that a defendant can defeat a fraud-on-the-market case class certification by showing that the alleged misstatement had no impact on price.
Dealers and major participants play a crucial role in the derivatives market, a market that has been estimated to exceed $710 trillion worldwide, of which more than $14 trillion represents transactions in security-based swaps. In the United States, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) and the SEC share responsibility for regulating the derivatives market. Out of the total derivatives market, the SEC is responsible for regulating security-based swaps. As evidenced in the most recent financial crisis, the unregulated derivatives market had devastating effects on our economy and U.S. investors. In response to this crisis, Congress enacted the Dodd-Frank Act and directed both the CFTC and SEC to promulgate an effective regulatory framework to oversee the derivatives market.
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.
In our paper, Corporate Distress and Lobbying: Evidence from the Stimulus Act, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, we contribute to the long literature on corporate behavior in distress, as well as to studies of the consequences of financial distress. Using the financial crisis in 2008 as a negative shock to nonfinancial firms’ financial conditions, we document a novel fact on the relation between firms’ financial health and their lobbying activities. We compare the lobbying activities of firms before and after the onset of the crisis and find that firms with weak financial health—as measured by their CDS spread—lobby more. This result is robust to controlling for such firm-specific variables as size, profitability, and market-to-book ratio, all the firm characteristics that remain unchanged during the short window before and during the passage of the stimulus act, sector-wide time trends, and the adoption of different time windows for comparison in the difference-in-differences framework.
Like in the US, European policy-makers have taken a number of measures as a reaction to the financial crisis, some of which address corporate governance issues of credit institutions and investment firms (hereafter collectively referred to as “banks”). Other than in the U.S., however, and more consistently with the financial origins of the crisis, very little has made its way into legislation that applies to non-financial corporations.
In the paper Supersize Them? Large Banks, Taxpayers and the Subsidies that Lay Between, I provide an in-depth study of the substantial, non-transparent governmental subsidies received by the biggest banks. Though some continue to deny the existence of these subsidies, I conclude that the subsidies exist and negatively impact the financial markets. The most significant implicit subsidy stems from market perception that the government will not allow the biggest banks to fail—i.e., that they are “too-big-to-fail” (TBTF)—enabling them to borrow at lower interest rates. I outline the solutions that have been proposed and/or implemented as an attempt to solve the TBTF problem, and I suggest a new user-fees framework that can be used in conjunction with other approaches to mitigate the consequences of the TBTF subsidies.
U.S. banking regulation resembles a cat-and-mouse game of industry change and regulatory response. Often, a crisis or industry innovation will lead to a new regulatory regime. Past regulatory regimes have included geographic restrictions, activity restrictions, disclosure mandates, risk management rules, and capital requirements. But the recently enacted Dodd-Frank Act introduced a new strain of banking-industry supervision: regulation by hypothetical. Regulation by hypothetical refers to rules that require banks to predict future crises and weaknesses. Those predictions—which by definition are speculative—become the basis for regulatory intervention. Two illustrative instances of this regulation were codified in Dodd-Frank: stress tests and living wills. They are two pillars on which Dodd-Frank builds to manage risk in systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs).  As I argue in my forthcoming article, regulation by hypothetical in Dodd-Frank should be abandoned for three reasons: it relies on a faulty premise, tasks an agency with a conflicted mission, and likely exacerbates the moral hazards involved with governmental sponsorship of private institutions. Because of these weaknesses, the regulation-by-hypothetical regime must be either abandoned (my first choice) or strengthened. One way to strengthen these hypothetical scenarios would be to conduct financial war games.