Obama Unveils Biggest Regulatory Overhaul Since 1930s

The Federal Reserve will have new powers to clamp firm regulation on all finance firms or banks that pose a significant systemic risk to the wider financial infrastructure.

President Barack Obama on June 17 proposed the most "sweeping" regulatory overhaul since the 1930s, vowing to stop future meltdowns in a financial system humbled by lax oversight, greed and huge debts.

Obama blamed a "culture of irresponsibility" a Great Depression-era regulatory system, reckless executive compensation, excessive debt and markets awash in new and risky financial products for sparking the crisis.

"An absence of oversight engendered systematic, and systemic, abuse," Obama said. "Instead of reducing risk, the markets actually magnified risks that were being taken by ordinary families and large firms alike. There was far too much debt and not nearly enough capital in the system. And a growing economy bred complacency."

The proposals would give the Federal Reserve new powers to clamp firm regulation on all finance firms or banks that pose a significant systemic risk to the wider financial infrastructure.

They would introduce new discipline and transparency into financial markets and would enable investors to better ride out the failure of one or more large financial institution.

As previously announced, the reforms will include the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency to shield Americans from the extremes of credit, savings and mortgage markets.

The Office of Thrift Supervision -- a federal bank regulator and supervisor -- will be abolished under the reform proposals, officials said. The agency came under fire for the near collapse of insurance giant AIG, which was eventually bailed out by the government for $180 billion, and the failure of Washington Mutual, the biggest bank to fail in U.S. history. U.S. investment banking icon Lehman Brothers had also collapsed at the height of the financial turmoil in September.

Some Obama critics, hoping for a top-to-bottom reconstruction of the greed-laced financial system, complained the overhaul did not go far enough, others said it would require too much government intervention in the economy.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the plan had several positive recommendations, but simply added to "the layering of the system without addressing the underlying and fundamental problems."

The Services Employees International Union said the plan was a "significant first step towards reforming and holding accountable a financial system whose irresponsible, risky practices have destabilized our economy and devastated millions of hard working families."

But Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele said Obama's plan was "too predictable. President Obama's solution is to give the federal government more power to micromanage America's economy."

Obama took aim at some of the exploitative asset products and mortgages offered in those markets that lured American investors into trouble. "These schemes were built on a pile of sand," Obama said. "The actions of many firms escaped scrutiny. In some cases, the dealings of these institutions were so complex and opaque that few inside or outside these companies understood what was happening."

Officials said a "national bank supervisor would be set up under the plans to supervise and regulate all federally charted depository institutions and federal branches and agencies of foreign banks.

Obama is also proposing stringent capital and liquidity requirements for the largest and most "interconnected" financial firms.

Some of the reforms proposed under President Barack Obama's plan include:

  • A new Financial Services Oversight Council of regulators led by the Treasury to identify emerging "systemic" risks and improve interagency cooperation.
  • New authority for the Federal Reserve to supervise all firms that could pose a threat to financial stability, even those that do not own banks.
  • Stronger capital and other prudential standards for all financial firms, and even higher standards for large firms.
  • A new National Bank Supervisor to supervise all federally chartered banks.
  • Elimination of the federal thrift charter and other loopholes that allowed some depository institutions to avoid bank holding company regulation by the Federal Reserve.
  • The registration of advisers of hedge funds and other private pools of capital with the SEC.
  • New requirements for market transparency, stronger regulation of credit rating agencies, and a requirement that issuers and originators retain a financial interest in securitized loans.
  • Comprehensive regulation of all over-the-counter derivatives.
  • New authority for the Federal Reserve to oversee payment, clearing, and settlement systems.
  • A new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to protect consumers across the financial sector from unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices.
  • A new regime to resolve nonbank financial institutions whose failure could have serious systemic effects.
  • Revisions to the Federal Reserve's emergency lending authority to improve accountability.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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