After 9 months of hard fighting, yesterday financial reform came down to this: an amendment, proposed by Senators Jeff Merkley and Carl Levin that would have forced big banks to get rid of their speculative proprietary trading activities (i.e., a relatively strong version of the Volcker Rule.)
The amendment had picked up a great deal of support in recent weeks, partly because of unflagging support from Paul Volcker and partly because of the broader debate around the Brown-Kaufman amendment (which would have forced the biggest 6 banks to become smaller). Brown-Kaufman failed, 33-61, but it demonstrated that a growing number of senators were willing to confront the power of our biggest and worst banks.
Yet, at the end of the day, the Merkley-Levin amendment did not even get a vote. Why?
Partly this was because of procedural maneuvers. Merkley-Levin could only get a vote if another amendment, proposed by Senator Brownback (on exempting auto dealers from new consumer protection rules) got a vote. Late yesterday afternoon, Senator Brownback was persuaded, presumably by his Republican colleagues and by financial lobbyists, to withdraw his amendment.
Of course, Merkley-Levin was only in this awkward position because of an earlier lack of wholehearted support from the Democratic leadership – and from the White House. Again, the long reach of Wall Street was at work.
But the important point here is quite different. If Merkley-Levin did not have the votes, it was in the interest of the megabanks to have it come to the floor and be defeated. That would have been a clear victory for the status quo.
But Merkley-Levin had momentum and could potentially have passed – reflecting a big change of opinion within the Senate (and more broadly around the country). The big banks were forced into overdrive to stop it.
The Volcker Rule, in its weaker Dodd bill form (“do a study and think about implementing”), perhaps will survive the upcoming House-Senate conference – although, because this process likely will not be televised, all kinds of bad things may happen behind closed doors. Regulators may also take the Volcker Rule more seriously – but the most probable outcome is that the Fed and other officials will get a great deal of discretion regarding how to implement the principles, and they will completely fudge the issue.
Senator Jeff Merkley took to the Senate floor on Tuesday, complete with fist pounding, to air his frustration over the blockage of the Merkley-Levin amendment that would fortify the Volcker Rule. The rule restricts banks that have access to FDIC insurance from speculative trading. What he wanted to know: “Why is Wall Street winning and Main Street losing tonight in the US senate?” Watch his passionate speech:
Is this a joke? There’s a broad effort, lead by Shelby, to block a discussion and vote on the Merkley-Levin amendment. Even with a 60 vote requirement and some democratic senators missing (with “one hand tied behind our backs” as Merkley said on the floor), it is still being blocked. David Dayen has the best roundup of the financial massacre from last night. If you get a chance, watch video of Merkley and Levin fighting for their amendment last night. They were on fire.
Between the last minute changes, the way the bill has morphed into an endless stream of studies to be ignored at a later date, the dropping of any of the strong progressive resolution mechanisms in the House and the blocking of votes and discussion on Dorgan, Merkley-Levin and Cantwell’s amendments, this has really been a massacre of what was originally a fairly decent bill. Both Reid and the President need to step in before this situation becomes even worse.
Dorgan slipped in his amendment by attaching it to another amendment, which nobody seemed to have caught. The Senate voted immediately to not have a discussion on the Dorgan amendment, thus having to avoid any responsibility for it.
As we discussed before, members of the “Chartered Financial Analyst”, or CFA, community were polled about the Volcker Rule. CFA’s are considered extremely well-qualified within the financial sector, and here’s how they voted:
Even reforms supported by a majority of polled financial CFA’s can’t get a discussion on the Senate floor. But having to deal with it daily, CFA’s are likely to feel how concentrated, politically powerful and abusive the current US financial system has grown.
Mike Konczal is a fellow with the Roosevelt Institute.
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Last fall there was some discussion on the PSW board regarding setting up a YouCaring donation page for a PSW member, Shadowfax. Since then, we have been looking into ways to help get him additional medical services and to pay down his medical debts. After following those leads, we are ready to move ahead with the YouCaring site. (Link is posted below.) Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated; not only to help aid in his medical bill debt, but to also show what a great community this group is.
In last weekend's update, only one the eight indexes on my watchlist posted a weekly gain. This weekend's numbers have reversed. Seven indexes closed the week with a gain and there were some substantial ones at that. Japan's Nikkei erased the previous week's -5.02% plunge with a 5.22% surge. The S&P 500 finished second with a 4.12% advance. China's Shanghai Composite was the sole loser, down 1.66%.
In fact, the Shanghai Composite remains the only index on the watch list in bear territory -- the traditional designation for a 20% decline from an interim high. The index is down 33.68% from its August 2009 peak. See the table inset (lower right) in the chart below.
If you're following Valeant's proposed takeover (or merger) of Allergan and the lawsuit by Allergan against Valeant and notorious hedge fund manager William Ackman, for insider trading this is a must-read article.
Linette Lopez describes the roles played by key Wall Street hedge fund owners--Jim Chanos, John Paulson, and Mason Morfit, a major shareholder in Valeant. Linette goes through the con...
There is lots of action in Southwest Airlines Co. November expiry call options today ahead of the air carrier’s third-quarter earnings report prior to the opening bell on Thursday. Among the large block trades initiated throughout the trading session, there appears to be at least one options market participant establishing a call spread in far out of the money options. It looks like the trader purchased a 4,000-lot Nov 37/39 call spread at a net premium of $0.40 apiece. The trade makes money if shares in Southwest rally 9.0% over the current price of $34.32 to exceed the effective breakeven point at $37.40, with maximum potential profits of $1.60 per contract available in the event that shares jump more than 13% to $39.00 by expiration. In September, the stock tou...
Last week brought even more stock market weakness and volatility as the selloff became self-perpetuating, with nobody mid-day on Wednesday wanting to be the last guy left holding equities. Hedge funds and other weak holders exacerbated the situation. But the extreme volatility and panic selling finally led some bulls (along with many corporate insiders) to summon a little backbone and buy into weakness, and the market finished the week on a high note, with continued momentum likely into the first part of this week.
Despite concerns about global economic growth and a persistent lack of inflation, especially given all the global quantitative easing, fundamentals for U.S. stocks still look good, and I believe this overdue correction ultimately will shape up to be a great buying opportunity -- i.e., th...
Now that bitcoin has subsided from speculative bubble to functioning currency (see the price chart below), it’s safe for non-speculators to explore the whole “cryptocurrency” thing. So…is bitcoin or one of its growing list of competitors a useful addition to the average person’s array of bank accounts and credit cards — or is it a replacement for most of those things? And how does one make this transition?
With his usual excellent timing, London-based financial writer/actor/stand-up comic Dominic Frisby has just released Bitcoin: The Future of Money? in which he explains all this in terms most readers will have no tr...
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Well PSW Subscribers....I am still here, barely. From my last post a few months ago to now, nothing has changed much, but there are a few bargins out there that as investors, should be put on the watch list (again) and if so desired....buy a small amount.
First, the media is on a tear against biotechs/pharma, ripping companies for their drug prices. Gilead's HepC drug, Sovaldi, is priced at $84K for the 12-week treatment. Pundits were screaming bloody murder that it was a total rip off, but when one investigates the other drugs out there, and the consequences of not taking Sovaldi vs. another drug combinations, then things become clearer. For instance, Olysio (JNJ) is about $66,000 for a 12-week treatment, but is approved for fewer types of patients AND...
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