Rewrite of Bank Rules Advances Slowly, Frustrating Republicans

Many efforts to retool postcrisis financial rules remain unfinished; Republicans want faster action

.. Daniel Tarullo, the Fed’s regulatory point-person during the Obama administration, in May said postcrisis rules “could be endangered by a kind of low-intensity deregulation consisting of an accumulation of non-headline-grabbing changes and an opaque relaxation of supervisory rigor.”Under the law passed a year ago, regulators face a fall deadline to simplify rules for midsize and small banks. They also want to make progress by year’s end to retool rules that limit speculative trading by large firms and test the ability of firms such as J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. or Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to continue lending during a severe recession.

Overall, regulators say they are moving as fast as they can on more than 30 changes affecting the financial sector. The proposed changes, they say, would better calibrate postcrisis rules under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial law without undermining the financial system.

“We’ve been working on a regulatory restructuring that is aggressive in its scope but responsible in its substance,” Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Randal Quarles said.

The pending changes include simplifying annual stress tests and eliminating a system of giving pass-or-fail grades to the big banks that take them, both industry victories. Another change would ease a rule that requires big banks to plan annually for their own demise, allowing the largest U.S. firms to produce full so-called living-will plans every four years rather than annually. Regulators also are changing a rule adopted to curb excessive borrowing at eight of the largest U.S. banks.

..  In some cases, regulators’ attempts at changing rules have been derailed by lukewarm support from Wall Street. The effort by Commodity Futures Trading Commission to overhaul postcrisis derivatives rules has stalled largely because major banks and trading firms have become accustomed to current rules and aren’t eager to change their business models.

Similarly, banks objected to a plank in the rewrite to the Volcker rule, the prohibition on lenders making risky “proprietary” bets. The pushback has led regulators to consider proposing a revised version, according to people familiar with the process.

Trump-appointed officials are also spending some of their time finishing rules mandated by the Dodd-Frank law that weren’t completed during the Obama administration. That means advancing restrictions in a more industry-friendly way than if Democratic appointees still held the rule-writing pen.

The Securities and Exchange Commission last week finished work on a rule raising standards for investment advice by stockbrokers. A federal court had voided a tougher version by the Obama administration that applied to retirement-savings advice. Trump appointees at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also rewrote an Obama-era rule for payday loans, removing a requirement that would have made it difficult for companies to offer high-cost consumer loans.

JPMorgan Chase Seeks to Prohibit Card Customers From Suing

The change, which affects about 47 million accounts, including those for Chase’s popular Sapphire cards, reflects a broader effort by Wall Street firms to prevent customers and employees from engaging in class-action lawsuits that can result in large settlements and bad publicity. Unlike court cases, arbitration cases do not leave a trail of public documents and they cannot be brought by groups of aggrieved customers.

JPMorgan — the country’s largest bank — is far from alone in increasing the use of arbitration clauses. Seventy-two percent of banks used such clauses in 2016, up from 59 percent in 2013according to a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The notifications said the arbitration agreement would apply not just to the customers’ current accounts but “all claims or disputes between you and us,” including “any prior account.”

The policy change turns back the clock in another way by bringing back the kind of arbitration clauses the bank and others agreed to temporarily drop in 2009 as part of a class-action lawsuit. The bank agreed to remove such provisions for three and a half years, starting in 2010, to settle a lawsuit that alleged large banks were working together to push customers into arbitration.

The Risks in Overusing America’s Big Economic Weapon

Alienated nations will be moved over time to establish alternatives to the U.S.’s systems and markets

But there is a real underlying risk that by deploying and using its economic weaponry so frequently the U.S. will, in the long run, drive others, friend and foe alike, away from its economic orbit. “These are not zero-cost options,” says Robert Hormats, former under secretary of state for economic affairs and an adviser on international economics for presidents going back to Richard Nixon.

Imposing tariffs on China and other nations trying to send their goods to the U.S. not only raises the prices of those products for Americans, it also gives targeted nations an incentive to develop markets, and long-term trade ties, in other countries.

At the same time, those foreign nations can retaliate by cutting purchases of American goods, or by slapping retaliatory tariffs of their own on American products, making them less competitive, as China has just announced it will do. The Chinese may find other countries to provide, say, wheat and soybeans, and in doing so develop lasting, non-American trade ties.

If the U.S. develops a reputation as an unreliable supplier, countries will turn to our competitors, and, when sanctions end, earlier supply chains will be difficult to restore,” says Mr. Hormats.

.. Similarly, there is a danger the U.S. is providing both allies and adversaries an incentive to find ways around using the American financial system as the wiring for international commerce.

For now, there are few alternatives to using American banks for clearing international transactions. As a result, enemies find they can be shut out of much international commerce by crossing the U.S. and being slapped with American sanctions.

But it isn’t just enemies. Friends also know their companies can be isolated if they don’t heed American wishes to shut down commerce in countries on the American black list. The risk of losing access to the financial system is a powerful motivator.

Yet overuse of this threat could compel other counties—including the very allies whose cooperation the U.S. seeks in applying financial pressure to the bad guys—to find alternatives to using dollars and American banks. Mr. Hormats notes that this “is not easy to do now, given the dollar’s pre-eminent role, but over time such overuse could eat away at the dollar’s role and hence U.S. leverage.

Indeed, there are signs that others are seeking alternatives to the dollar and the American-led financial network. The European Union is trying to set up its own payment system to allow oil companies and businesses to continue trading with Iran despite American sanctions. China has made clear it would be happy to lead a different international finance system and use its currency as an alternative to the dollar.

Similarly, 11 Pacific Rim allies have moved ahead with their own new trade bloc after the U.S. pulled out of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal.

America remains the big kid on the economic block, but it isn’t the only one. The danger is that it could come to be seen as the bully who tries to intimidate the other kids once too often, persuading them to join together to find ways around him.

 

Venezuelan Spring

More than words are at work. Last week the Bank of England blocked Mr. Maduro from withdrawing $1.2 billion in gold reserves. On Friday the U.S. gave Mr. Guaidó control of Venezuelan government accounts at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and other U.S.-insured banks.

.. Venezuelans have made numerous attempts since 2002 to restore the liberties lost when Chávez used his majority backing to dissolve civil rights and a free press. But they were never able to persuade the military high command, infiltrated by Cuba, to break ranks with the dictator. If this time is different it’s because Mr. Maduro can no longer guarantee the interests of the top brass.

Mr. Guaidó is rumored to be backed by Venezuela’s military rank-and-file and midlevel officers. There are also reports that some commanders of detachments around the country no longer support Mr. Maduro.

The regime is unleashing repression and the international community wants to avoid more bloodshed. The U.S. has offered the military high command safe passage out of the country, and if international efforts to cut financial channels for the leadership are successful, many may find it an attractive option.

.. On Jan. 10 Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia FreelandwarnedMr. Maduro that he would not be recognized: “We call on him to immediately cede power to the democratically-elected National Assembly until new elections are held, which must include the participation of all political actors and follow the release of all political prisoners in Venezuela.”

.. Mr. Maduro says this is a U.S. conspiracy. But as a member of Canada’s Liberal Party and the lead negotiator of the bitter rewrite of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Ms. Freeland is hardly a Trump administration lackey.

The tyrant isn’t entirely alone. Russia, China, Iran, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Hezbollah stand with him. Havana runs the counterintelligence network charged with controlling the Venezuelan armed forces and brownshirts. Reuters reported Friday that Russia has flown an unspecified number of paramilitary contractors into the country. A new asymmetric war can’t be ruled out.