Independence of Federal Financial Regulators (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
Conventional wisdom regarding regulators is that the structure and design of the organization matters for policy outcomes. Financial regulators conduct rulemaking and enforcement to implement law and supervise financial institutions. These agencies have been given certain characteristics that enhance their day-to-day independence from the President or Congress, which may make policymaking more technical and less “political” or “partisan,” for better or worse. Independence may also make regulators less accountable to elected officials and can reduce congressional influence, at least in the short term.
Although independent agencies share many characteristics, there are notable differences. Some federal financial regulators are relatively more independent in some areas but relatively less so in others.
Credit Cards: Marketing to College Students Appears to Have Declined
Source: Government Accountability Office
Trends associated with college affinity card agreements include fewer agreements and cardholders and declining payments, according to data GAO analyzed from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Federal Reserve) and the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (CFPB). The number of affinity card agreements declined from 1,045 in 2009 to 617 in 2012 (41 percent). More than 70 percent of the agreements in 2012 were with institutions of higher education or alumni organizations, and one issuer—FIA Card Services, a subsidiary of Bank of America—had 67 percent of all agreements. Affinity card issuers paid $50.4 million to all organizations in 2012, 40 percent less than in 2009. In most cases, payments were based on numbers of cardholders and the amount spent on the cards. The card agreements covered contractual obligations related to such things as marketing practices, target populations, use of the organization’s logo or trademark, terms of payment, and, in some cases, service standards.
Student-focused marketing of affinity and student cards on campus appears to have declined. Four large affinity card issuers GAO interviewed (representing 91 percent of cardholders) said that they primarily targeted alumni and no longer marketed affinity cards directly to students. In interviews with GAO, institutions of higher education and affiliated organizations agreed that affinity card marketing directly to students had ceased. In addition, five of the nine largest overall credit card issuers that also issue college student credit cards told GAO they no longer actively marketed these cards (such as through direct mail, e-mail, or on-campus activity), but rather relied upon websites and bank branches. Representatives of five institutions with large affinity card agreements told GAO that they generally noticed a decline in on-campus credit card marketing in recent years. Consistent with these observations, available data show a decline in card solicitations to students in recent years. For example, a survey of students in 2013 by Student Monitor, a research firm, found that 6 percent of students reported obtaining a credit card as a result of a direct mail solicitation, compared with 36 percent in 2000.
Offshore Tax Evasion: The Effort to Collect Unpaid Taxes on Billions in Hidden Offshore Accounts (PDF)
Source: U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Government Affairs
This investigation arises from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations’ longstanding focus on offshore tax abuse, including U.S. taxpayers using hidden offshore accounts. In 2008 and 2009, the Subcommittee held three days of hearings and released a bipartisan report examining how some tax haven banks were deliberately helping U.S. customers hide their assets offshore to evade U.S. taxes. The hearings focused on two tax haven banks, UBS AG, the largest bank in Switzerland, and LGT, a private bank owned by the royal family of Liechtenstein.1 On the first day of the hearings, UBS acknowledged its role in facilitating U.S. tax evasion, apologized for its wrongdoing, and promised to end it. It later entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, paid a $780 million fine, and turned over about 4,700 accounts with U.S. client names that had not been disclosed to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It also committed to disclosing to the IRS all future accounts opened for U.S. persons.
Since then, significant progress has been made in the effort to combat offshore tax abuses. World leaders have declared their commitment to reduce cross border tax evasion. Tax havens around the world have declared they will no longer use secrecy laws to facilitate tax dodging. In the United States, over 43,000 taxpayers joined a voluntary IRS disclosure program, came clean about their hidden offshore accounts, and paid over $6 billion in back taxes, interest, and penalties. In addition, Congress enacted the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which requires foreign banks to either disclose their U.S. customer accounts on an automatic, annual basis or pay a 30% tax on their U.S. investment income. Just this month, at the request of G8 and G20 leaders, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued a model agreement that, like FATCA, will enable countries to automatically exchange account information to fight cross border tax evasion.
On the negative side of the ledger, despite evidence of widespread misconduct by Swiss banks in facilitating U.S. tax evasion, Switzerland has continued to severely restrict the ability of Swiss banks to disclose the names of U.S. customers with undeclared Swiss accounts. As a result, the United States has obtained few U.S. names and little account information. In addition, despite the passage of five years, the U.S. Justice Department has failed to hold accountable the vast majority of the 4,700 UBS accountholders whose names were given to the United States. Aside from UBS, it has prosecuted only one of the Swiss banks suspected of misconduct, while setting up a program for hundreds of Swiss banks to obtain non-prosecution agreements without disclosing the names of a single U.S. customer with a hidden account. The promise of FATCA to disclose hidden offshore accounts has also dimmed due to regulations that opened disclosure loopholes which may enable many offshore accountholders to continue to conceal their accounts from U.S. authorities.
In this Report, the Subcommittee’s investigation chronicles these developments and provides an assessment of U.S. efforts to combat offshore tax evasion through hidden foreign accounts. It examines, in particular, ongoing roadblocks erected by the Swiss Government to block bank disclosure of the names of former U.S. customers with undeclared Swiss accounts. It uses as a case study a major Swiss bank, Credit Suisse, that was deeply involved in facilitating U.S. tax evasion and whose unnamed U.S. customers continue to owe unpaid U.S. taxes on billions of dollars in hidden assets.
Citigroup: A Case Study in Managerial and Regulatory Failures
Source: Indiana Law Review (forthcoming); GWU Legal Studies Research Paper; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper
Citigroup has served as the poster child for the elusive promises and manifold pitfalls of universal banking. When Citicorp merged with Travelers to form Citigroup in 1998, Citigroup’s leaders and supporters asserted that the new financial conglomerate would offer unparalleled convenience to its customers through “one-stop shopping” for banking, securities and insurance services. They also claimed that Citigroup would have a superior ability to withstand financial shocks due to its broadly diversified activities.
By 2009, those bold predictions of Citigroup’s success had turned to ashes. Citigroup pursued a high-risk, high-growth strategy during the 2000s that proved to be disastrous. As a result, the bank recorded more than $130 billion of losses on its loans and investments from 2007 to 2009. To prevent Citigroup’s failure, the federal government provided $45 billion of new capital to the bank and gave the bank $500 billion of additional help in the form of asset guarantees, debt guarantees and emergency loans. The federal government provided more financial assistance to Citigroup than to any other bank during the financial crisis.
During its early years, Citigroup was embroiled in a series of high-profile scandals, including tainted transactions with Enron and WorldCom, biased research advice, corrupt allocations of shares in initial public offerings, predatory subprime lending, and market manipulation in foreign bond markets. Notwithstanding a widely-publicized plan to improve corporate risk controls in 2005, Citigroup continued to pursue higher profits through a wide range of speculative activities, including leveraged corporate lending, packaging toxic subprime loans into mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations, and dumping risky assets into off- balance-sheet conduits for which Citigroup had contractual and reputational exposures.
Post-mortem evaluations of Citigroup’s near-collapse revealed that neither Citigroup’s managers nor its regulators recognized the systemic risks embedded in the bank’s far-flung operations. Thus, Citigroup was not only too big to fail but also too large and too complex to manage or regulate effectively. Citigroup’s history raises deeply troubling questions about the ability of bank executives and regulators to supervise and control today’s megabanks.
Citigroup’s original creators – John Reed of Citicorp and Sandy Weill of Travelers – admitted in recent years that Citigroup’s universal banking model failed, and they called on Congress to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act’s separation between commercial and investment banks. As Reed and Weill acknowledged, the universal banking model is deeply flawed by its excessive organizational complexity, its vulnerability to culture clashes and conflicts of interest, and its tendency to permit excessive risk-taking within far-flung, semi-autonomous units that lack adequate oversight from either senior managers or regulators.
New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office
1. Medicaid: Demographics and Service Usage of Certain High-Expenditure Beneficiaries. GAO-14-176, February 19.
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/661010.pdf
2. IRS’s Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program: 2009 Participation by State and Location of Foreign Bank Accounts. GAO-14-265R, January 6.
FinCEN Issues Guidance to Financial Institutions on Marijuana Businesses
Source: Financial Crimes Enforcement Network
The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), in coordination with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), today issued guidance that clarifies customer due diligence expectations and reporting requirements for financial institutions seeking to provide services to marijuana businesses. The guidance provides that financial institutions can provide services to marijuana-related businesses in a manner consistent with their obligations to know their customers and to report possible criminal activity.
Providing clarity in this context should enhance the availability of financial services for marijuana businesses. This would promote greater financial transparency in the marijuana industry and mitigate the dangers associated with conducting an all-cash business. The guidance also helps financial institutions file reports that contain information important to law enforcement. Law enforcement will now have greater insight into marijuana business activity generally, and will be able to focus on activity that presents high-priority concerns.
Shadow Banking: Background and Policy Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
Shadow banking refers to financial firms and activities that perform similar functions to those of depository banks. Although the term is used to describe dissimilar firms and activities, a general policy concern is that a component of shadow banking could be a source of financial instability, even though that component might not be subject to regulations designed to prevent a crisis, or be eligible for emergency facilities designed to mitigate financial turmoil once it has begun. This concern is magnified by the experience of 2007-2009, during which financial problems among nonbank lenders, and disruption to securitization (in which both banks and nonbanks participated), contributed to the magnitude of the financial crisis. This report provides a framework for understanding shadow banking, discusses several fundamental problems of financial intermediation, and describes the experiences of several specific sectors of shadow banking during the financial crisis and related policy concerns.
New GAO Reports and Testimony
Source: Government Accountabiity Office
1. Information Security: Agency Responses to Breaches of Personally Identifiable Information Need to Be More Consistent. GAO-14-34, December 9.
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/659548.pdf
2. James Webb Space Telescope: Project Meeting Commitments but Current Technical, Cost, and Schedule Challenges Could Affect Continued Progress. GAO-14-72, January 8.
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/660046.pdf
1. Government Support for Bank Holding Companies: Statutory Changes to Limit Future Support Are Not Yet Fully Implemented, by Lawrance L. Evans Jr., director, financial markets and community investment, before the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection, Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. GAO-14-174T, January 8.
Do Small Businesses Still Prefer Community Banks?
Source: Federal Reserve Board
We formulate and test hypotheses about the role of bank type – small versus large, single-market versus multimarket, and local versus nonlocal banks – in banking relationships. The conventional paradigm suggests that “community banks” – small, single market, local institutions – are better able to form strong relationships with informationally opaque small businesses, while “megabanks” – large, multimarket, nonlocal institutions – tend to serve more transparent firms. Using the 2003 Survey of Small Business Finance (SSBF), we conduct two sets of tests. First, we test for the type of bank serving as the “main” relationship bank for small businesses with different firm and owner characteristics. Second, we test for the strength of these main relationships by examining the probability of multiple relationships and relationship length as functions of main bank type and financial fragility, as well as firm and owner characteristics. The results are often not consistent with the conventional paradigm, perhaps because of changes in lending technologies and deregulation of the banking industry.
The State of the Banking Sector in Europe
Source: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
This paper reviews the state of the banking sector in Europe. At the aggregate level, the empirical data suggest that the Baltics, Cyprus, Greece and Ireland, in particular, are hit by a strong decline in lending in the wake of the financial crisis. This deleveraging is mainly caused by a reduction in cross-border supply of credit. We also examine the capital position of the European banking system, using November 2013 stock market data. In the basic scenario to restore capital to a market based leverage ratio of 3%, EUR 84 billion of extra capital would be needed for the largest 60 banks.
At the bank level, the top tertile of well-capitalised banks (with a market based leverage ratio well above 4%) continues lending. By contrast, the 2nd tertile of medium-capitalised banks (between 3 and 4%) and the 3rd tertile of weakly capitalised banks (well below 3%) show a strong decline in lending. Moreover, the market-to-book ratio is below one for these banks. The market thus gives a lower value to these banks.
Our findings provide prima facie evidence of a credit crunch in Europe. Another fallout of the financial crisis is an increase, though very modest, of concentration in banking in the distressed countries (Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy). The enhancement of financial stability through (forced) M&As seems to come at the expense of reduced competition.
Revenue Increased in Most Service Sectors in 2012, Census Bureau Reports
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
The U.S. Census Bureau today released its 2012 Service Annual Survey, which shows a revenue increase in 10 of the nation’s 11 service sectors for employer firms between 2011 and 2012. The utilities sector was the only sector to show a year-to-year decline in revenue, down by $22.7 billion to $533.4 billion for 2012.
The Service Annual Survey provides the most comprehensive national statistics available each year on service industry activity in the United States. In 2009, the survey was expanded to collect data for all service industries, which account for 55 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP).
Aggregate Uncertainty and the Supply of Credit
Source: International Monetary Fund
Recent studies show that uncertainty shocks have quantitatively important effects on the real economy. This paper examines one particular channel at work: the supply of credit. It presents a model in which a bank, even if managed by risk-neutral shareholders and subject to limited liability, can exhibit self-insurance, and thus loan supply contracts when uncertainty increases. This prediction is tested with the universe of U.S. commercial banks over the period 1984-2010. Identification of credit supply is achieved by looking at the differential response of banks according to their level of capitalization. Consistent with the theoretical predictions, increases in uncertainty reduce the supply of credit, more so for banks with lower levels of capitalization. These results are weaker for large banks, and are robust to controlling for the lending and capital channels of monetary policy, to different measures of uncertainty, and to breaking the dataset in subsamples. Quantitatively, uncertainty shocks are almost as important as monetary policy ones with regards to the effects on the supply of credit.
Navigating the market
Source: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
To understand the wide range of information sources consumers could be exposed to in making financial decisions, we commissioned a study of the size and scope of the financial information field. The results give an overall indication of the relative amounts spent in the U.S. on financial education and on the marketing of certain types of financial products. The report found that for every dollar put towards financial education, $25 is spent on financial marketing, which can make it difficult for consumers to find objective information.
Multilateral Development Banks: Overview and Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
The multilateral development banks (MDBs) include the World Bank and four smaller regional development banks: the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Asian Development Bank (AsDB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and the Inter- American Development Bank (IDB). The United States is a member of, and major donor to, each of the MDBs.
The MDBs provide financial assistance to developing countries in order to promote economic and social development. They primarily fund large infrastructure and other development projects and, increasingly, provide loans tied to policy reforms by the government. The MDBs provide nonconcessional financial assistance to middle-income countries and some creditworthy low-income countries on market-based terms. They also provide concessional assistance, including grants and loans at below-market rate interest rates, to low-income countries.
Critics argue that the MDBs focus on “getting money out the door” (rather than delivering results), are not transparent, and lack a clear division of labor. They also argue that providing aid multilaterally relinquishes U.S. control over where and how the money is spent. Proponents argue that providing assistance to developing countries is the “right” thing to do and has been successful in helping developing countries make strides in health and education over the past four decades. They also argue that MDB assistance is important for leveraging funds from bilateral donors, promoting policy reforms, and enhancing U.S. leadership.
Stress testing: Failures on the horizon?
Source: PricewaterHouse Coopers
On November 1, 2013, the Federal Reserve Board of Governors (“Fed”), along with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, released documents pertaining to the capital stress testing requirements under the Dodd-Frank Act. One set of documents contained the stress test macroeconomic scenarios (i.e., baseline, severe, and severely adverse) and instructions that outline the economic parameters to be used by bank holding companies (“BHCs”) and by banks with over $10 billion in assets. Concurrently, the Fed issued the 2014 Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (“CCAR”) guidance that outlines revised requirements for BHCs with over $50 billion in assets whose capital plans would require Fed review.
Beyond the changes in the scenario parameters, these documents outline a number of other important updates, including accelerating the timeline for calculation of Basel III capital ratios. Furthermore, BHCs and banks with $10 billion to $50 billion in assets will be conducting supervisory stress tests in 2014 for the first time, while the results of stress tests for certain BHCs with over $50 billion in assets (i.e., those BHCs that were subject to capital plan review in 2013 but not to CCAR) will be publicly released. Taken together, these and others changes evidence our previously stated expectation that the stress testing bar will continue to rise for large BHCs and that more failing grades are likely in the future.
Political, fiscal and banking union in the Eurozone? (PDF)
Source: European University Institute and Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
From blog post (European University Institute Library):
The proceedings of a 2013 EUI conference on the Eurozone are now available as an e-book. Political, fiscal and banking union in the Eurozone? is edited by Franklin Allen, Elena Carletti and Joanna Gray with contributions by Edmond Alphandéry, Tony Barber, Andrea Enria, Luis Garicano, Daniel Gros, Mitu Gulati, Richard J. Herring, Robert P. Inman, Jan Pieter Krahnen, Mattias Kumm, Peter L. Lindseth, Patrick O’Callaghan, Richard Parker, Hélène Rey and Philip Wood.
The International Monetary System: Where Are We and Where Do We Need to Go?
Source: International Monetary Fund
The North Atlantic financial crisis of 2008-2009 has spurred renewed interest in reforming the international monetary system, which has been malfunctioning in many aspects. Large and volatile capital flows have promoted greater volatility in financial markets, leading to recurrent financial crises. The renewed focus on the broader role of the central banks, away from narrow price stability monetary policy frameworks, is necessary to ensure domestic macroeconomic and financial stability. Since international monetary cooperation might be difficult, though desirable, central banks in major advanced economies, going forward, need to internalize the implications of their monetary policies for the rest of the global economy to reduce the incidence of financial crises.
Towers Watson’s extreme risks ranking has a new top three: Food/water/energy crisis, Stagnation and Global temperature change – while Sovereign default and Insurance crisis have both fallen five places and Depression loses the top spot for the first time since the research began in 2009. While Food/water/energy crisis (previously Resource scarcity) rose ten places to take the top slot, other extreme risks that have also risen up the ranking this year are Global trade collapse (+4) and Global temperature change (+3). Extreme risks that, in Towers Watson’s view, are less of a threat than in 2011 include Sovereign default, which has fallen five places, as has an Insurance crisis, while a Currency crisis and a Banking crisisfell three and two places respectively.
Towers Watson’s research and ranking, entitled Extreme risks 2013, categorises very rare events that would have a high impact on global economic growth and asset returns if they occurred. The top 15 Extreme risks now for the first time include: Stagnation, Health progress backfire, Nuclear contamination, Extreme longevity and Terrorism, while those that have dropped out of the top 15 this year are: Euro break-up, Hyperinflation, Political crisis, Major war, End of fiat money and Killer pandemic.