Federal Reserve officials told Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS -0.72% and Morgan StanleyMS -0.56% that they were about to flunk a portion of the annual stress tests but offered them a deal to avoid an outright fail and continue paying billions to shareholders.
.. regulators told them that to fully pass the test, they would have to cut almost in half the combined $16 billion they had hoped to pay out to shareholders
.. Fed officials gave the banks an unprecedented option: If they agreed to freeze their payouts at recent levels, they would get a “conditional non-objection” grade and avoid the black eye of failure. That meant the banks could pay out a combined $13 billion, or about $5 billion more than what they would have given back to investors if they had decided to retake the test and get a passing grade.
It also will boost a profitability measure that helps determine how much Goldman Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein and Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman are paid.
.. The arrangement is the first of its kind in the eight years of the Fed’s annual tests, and one of the clearest signs to date of a significant shift in the regulatory environment for banks, which have been expecting a gentler approach from Washington ever since the election of President Donald Trump.
“New refs, new rules,” consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP wrote in a note.
This round of tests was the first graded by Trump appointee Randal Quarles, a former Wall Street lawyer and private-equity executive who last year became the Fed’s regulatory czar.
.. “This year’s stress test followed the same notification process as in past years—all firms were notified of the results and given the fixed option to reduce their capital payout plans with no negotiations,” a Fed spokesman said.
.. Fed officials said their leniency toward Goldman and Morgan Stanley was due in part to the impact of the 2017 tax law, which reduced the value of certain tax assets held by the banks and meant they entered the crisis scenario with diminished capital reserves
.. The stress tests, arguably the most visible sign of the postcrisis crackdown on Wall Street, are being changed in ways that benefit the industry. The Fed exempted three firms with less than $100 billion of assets from the test this year under the new banking law. Its treatment of Morgan Stanley and Goldman—as well as State Street Corp. , which got a pass although it also failed to clear capital requirements under the stress scenario—showed the Fed taking a more flexible approach to what had been a binary exercise.
“The Fed was very kind,” said Arthur Angulo, a managing director at Promontory Financial Group and a former Fed official. He added the Fed’s exercise of discretion on the quantitative portion of the test was “a potential slippery slope.”
.. The interim director at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mick Mulvaney, has largely stopped initiating new investigations and wants the consumer-finance regulator to be less antagonistic to the businesses it regulates.
.. If Goldman had been required to rejigger its plan until its capital ratios exceeded the Fed’s minimum, the bank would have been able to seek just over $1 billion in buybacks, instead of the $5 billion that was approved
Mick Mulvaney, acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, fired the agency’s 25-member advisory board Wednesday, days after some of its members criticized his leadership of the watchdog agency.
.. On Monday, 11 CAB members held a news conference and criticized Mulvaney for, among other things, canceling legally required meetings with the group.
On Wednesday, group members were notified that they were being replaced — and that they could not reapply for spots on the new board.
.. In a statement, the agency’s spokesman, John Czwartacki, took a final swipe at the group. “The outspoken members of the Consumer Advisory Board seem more concerned about protecting their taxpayer funded junkets to Washington, D.C., and being wined and dined by the Bureau than protecting consumers,” he said.
.. Revamping the board is part of the CFPB’s new approach to reaching out to stakeholders to “increase high quality feedback,” the bureau said in an email to the group. The CFPB will hold more town halls and roundtable discussions, the letter said, and the new CAB will have fewer members.
.. Since being appointed acting director by President Trump in November, Mulvaney has launched a top-to-bottom review of the bureau’s operations, stripped enforcement powers from a CFPB unit responsible for pursuing discrimination cases and proposed that lawmakers curb the agency’s powers.
.. Last week, Mulvaney sided with payday lenders who sued the CFPB to block implementation of new industry regulations.
.. “We’ve decided we’re going to start the advisory groups with new membership, to bring in these new perspectives and new dialogue,” said Anthony Welcher, the CFPB’s policy associate director for external affairs
.. During the call, Welcher said revamping the CAB would save the agency “multi-hundred-thousand dollars a year” by not having its periodic meetings in Washington. But several board members objected, noting that they would be willing to pay their own way to attend the meetings.
.. Their dismissal “is another move indicating Acting Director Mick Mulvaney is only interested in obtaining views from his inner circle, and has no interest in hearing the perspectives of those who work with struggling American families
Taxpayers no longer have to wonder how their money has been spent at the newly renovated headquarters at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Mick Mulvaney, the CFPB’s acting director, graciously allowed The Daily Caller News Foundation to take an exclusive tour on Feb. 1 of the federal office — founded by Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — that has been widely criticized for cost overruns and extravagance.
A June 2014 Inspector General report concluded there was “no sound basis” for the agency’s renovation cost estimates. Shortly thereafter, the contracting for the building was transferred from the bureau to the General Services Administration, that oversaw the current renovation.
.. The first thing that stands out is that the office space does not feel like a government building at all. It could be an upscale hotel, a college campus or a corporate headquarters.
“There was interest to move this above a Class C Building,” said a CFPB source familiar with the renovation and the operation of the building. “Now it’s a Class A building,” he told TheDCNF.
.. The $124 million spent to date for the 303,000 square foot office building is $409 per square foot, more than Trump World Tower, which cost $334 per square foot or Las Vegas’ Bellagio Hotel and Casino, priced at $330 per square foot.
It was no wonder the public tuned out the CFPB narrative that Democrats have repeated since they controlled Congress and the White House and passed the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, which created the bureau. The plot never changes — before Cordray’s resignation, Republicans opposed the bureau because it kept the financial industry honest; now they restrain the CFPB so businesses can cheat consumers.
.. The Dodd-Frank Act forbids the Federal Trade Commission and the CFPB from conducting independent inquiries into the same matter. Cordray may have authorized an investigation of the Equifax data breach, but the FTC ended up conducting the full-scale probe.
.. Cordray and Warren, who helped draft the law, surely recognized Rucker’s sleight-of-hand. Nevertheless, the senator tweeted, “Another middle finger from @MickMulvaneyOMB to consumers: he’s killed the @CFPB’s probe into the #EquifaxBreach.”
.. Since 2010, Republicans have objected to the lack of legislative and executive checks on a regulator with so much impact on the economy.
.. Democrats, confident there would never be a Republican director, characterized the near-absolute power as independence from political influence.
.. Ironically, the once-secretive CFPB has been more transparent since Mulvaney throttled its External Affairs Division, the propaganda machine Warren created in 2010 while leading the agency’s yearlong start-up process as a presidential adviser.
.. The division’s copious press releases have been replaced by more-informative leaks from the bureau’s overwhelmingly Democratic employees. Contrary to the stale narrative that liberals craft from the leaks, the acting director does not hate consumer protection; he just hates the CFPB’s structure, which he once described as “a joke . . . in a sad, sick way.” Warren’s obstinacy has only allowed him to validate the now-famous comment and delight in the bully’s comeuppance.
.. Mulvaney invited a Daily Caller reporter to the CFPB headquarters Warren had procured in 2011. Cordray’s $124 million renovation of the Brutalist eyesore came to symbolize the bureau’s elitist liberal entitlement. The reporter was escorted through a 2,660-square-foot athletic facility with two huge locker rooms, offices with electric height-adjustable workstations, a library with a sofa and lounge chairs but few books, a roof deck with spectacular views and motorized cantilevered umbrellas, and a courtyard with lavish fountains. The images recalled the familiar spectacle of triumphant soldiers touring a deposed dictator’s opulent palace.
.. But exposing his predecessor’s sins is only Mulvaney’s jab. His knockout punch is demonstrating that the CFPB’s structure allows its director to behave like the Republican stereotype.
.. Unlike other Trump nominees who renounced previous calls to eliminate the agencies they were tapped to lead, Mulvaney told reporters he was not shutting the CFPB down because the law did not permit him to do so. In his introduction to the agency’s five-year strategic plan he declared that “we have committed to fulfill the Bureau’s statutory responsibilities, but go no further.”
.. He requested no funding from the Fed for the first three months of 2018 and instead financed the CFPB’s operations by draining its stockpiled reserves, a likely prelude to agency layoffs... Rather than defend his policies, Mulvaney reminded his critics: “I am the judge, I am the jury, and I am the executioner in some of these investigations, and that is completely wrong. . . . If you don’t like it, talk to the person who wrote the statute.”.. Her attempt to shame Republicans is laughable — Democrats remained silent for five years while Cordray proved that Congress is powerless to rein in the director... Mulvaney is not, as Warren writes, “turning the CFPB into a politicized rogue agency.” He is showing Democrats that it will continue to be one unless they help restructure it.