Scaling Back Our Bloated Financial Sector
By Zach Carter
May 26, 2010 - 4:38pm ET
It's been apparent for several weeks that the Wall Street reform bill will not cut down the largest U.S. banking behemoths to a safe and manageable size. But individual oversized banks are not the only problem Big Finance poses to the economy—the overall sector is much too large, and if we do not shrink it, we'll be dealing with difficult economic conditions for years to come.
Right before the banking system crashed, the financial sector accounted for an astonishing 40 percent of corporate profits. That share of the economy plunged as banks sought their bailouts, but by the end of 2009, finance was back, again accounting for almost 36 percent of corporate profits.
When the financial industry takes up that much of the economy, it becomes a big problem for two reasons. First, instead of serving as a catalyst for broader economic growth, finance is simply devouring other sectors of the economy. Like money, finance is not a goal in and of itself—it's just a way to support goods and services that make life better. At 40 percent of profits, finance is not supporting that activity, it's destroying it.
Second, for finance to take up 35 to 40 percent of the total profit pie, it has to be engaging in a lot of raw speculative gambling, rather than economically productive lending. That creates a tower of speculation that can easily topple with a single event—and the resulting mess can be very hard to clean up. As Nomi Prins has detailed, between 2002 and 2008, only about $1.4 trillion in subprime mortgages were issued, while about $14 trillion in securitized bets were derived from these mortgages. When the subprime market cratered, all that speculation made a big problem much bigger.
So in addition to cutting the biggest banks down to size, we also need to scale back the entire financial sector. There are a handful of provisions in Wall Street reform packages approved by the House and Senate that would help accomplish that goal. Unfortunately, the bank lobby, and in some cases, the Obama administration itself, is fighting those provisions. more
The Consensus On Big Banks Shifts, But Not At Treasury
By Simon Johnson, co-author 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and The Next Financial Meltdown
Attitudes towards big banks are changing around the world and across the political spectrum. In the UK, the new center-right government is looking for ways to break them up:
“We will take steps to reduce systemic risk in the banking system and will establish an independent commission to investigate the complex issue of separating retail and investment banking in a sustainable way; while recognising that this will take time to get right, the commission will be given an initial time frame of one year to report.”
The European Commission, among others, signals that a bank tax is coming; presumably, as suggested by the IMF, this will have higher rates for bigger banks and for banks with less capital. And other European officials are increasingly worried by the lack of capital in German banks, by the recent reckless lending sprees in Ireland and Spain, and by the dangers posed by banks that are much bigger than their home countries (e.g., Switzerland).
Yet top Obama administration officials refuse to change their opinions in the slightest; they have dug in behind the idea that they represent the moderate center on banking policy. This is a weak position; it is simply a myth with no factual basis – the people who pushed effectively for more reform over the past few months were the center, not the left, of the Democratic party. more
Banking split essential to avoid new financial crisis, warns OECD adviser
'We need to separate capital market banking from standard commercial banking. That's the most basic lesson of the crisis,' says Adrian Blundell-Wignall
Larry Elliott, economics editor, in Paris
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 27 May 2010 11.33 BST
The global economy will be plunged into a second and even more serious crisis unless banks are split into separate retail and speculative arms, a senior policymaker from the west's leading thinktank said today.
Adrian Blundell-Wignall, special adviser on financial markets to Angel Gurría, secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, said that without a basic reform of banks "the lesson from the crisis was that it was not big enough".
Blundell-Wignall, speaking in a personal capacity at the OECD's annual forum in Paris, said one of the big obstacles to better global governance was "institutional capture" of policymakers by the leading global financial institutions. more
Are Goldman Sachs and the Megabanks Able to Wipe out an Entire Economy with a Keystroke?
Thu, 27 May 2010 00:00 EDT
How artificial intelligence and robotrading pose a growing threat to the global marketplace.
"We have found no evidence that these events were triggered by 'fat finger' errors, computer hacking, or terrorist activity, although we cannot completely rule out these possibilities," a recent Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) report on the so-called May 6 "Flash Crash" that wiped out a cool trillion in a mere half-hour weakly admitted. "Much work is needed to determine all of the causes of the market disruption."
That's another way of saying that it remains only the market makers that caused the largest single-day point decline in Dow Jones history who actually know where the bodies are buried. The rest of us, including the SEC, have a Sisyphean task of sifting through mountains of dense data. But regardless of who ends up on the end of possible criminal proceedings, the SEC is sure that the whole cluster stock was seriously exacerbated by the robot traders executing light-speed electronic transactions via supercomputers, while exposing our hyper real economy as an Internet worked casino. If anything, the Flash Crash proved that market makers like Goldman Sachs and plenty more playing both sides of securities could be capable -- with the high-priced help of math and computer science Ph.Ds crafting up proprietary, recursive algorithms -- of wiping out any corporation's stock, perhaps any nation's economy, in a comparative instant with just the press of a button.
"It was actually amazing watching it all happen," Gina Sanchez, Director of Equity and Asset Allocation Strategy for Roubini Global Economics, told AlterNet by phone. "We went from risk-aversion to risk-seeking in the matter of an hour. But it doesn't bother me so much that the algorithms went after the bids. They were doing what they're supposed to do, which is seek out arbitrage opportunities. What concerned me was how the bids got out there in the first place." more