by Kyle Colona on April 9, 2012
In an interview with Bloomberg Television last week, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond President Jeffrey Lacker said the Volcker Rule, named for its original champion, former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, would be difficult to implement.
As is well known by now, the ruled is aimed at reducing the odds that banks will make risky investments with their own capital and put depositors’ money at risk. Mr. Lacker believes that trading books were “kind of tangential” to the financial crisis of 2008-2009. During this time bank capital was slammed by losses on risky mortgages, many of them bundled into complex securities.
The Volcker rule is “fairly difficult if not impossible to implement in a way that is at all reasonable,” Lacker said in the interview.
The proposal has been called “one of the most contentious provisions of the 2010 Dodd-Frank act.” Lacker also said that the rule it would be “high on the list” of things he would change if he could. Work on the rule is diverting resources from more “essential” requirements in the act that would limit taxpayer- funded bailouts.
“We need to push hard to have firms structure themselves, restructure themselves if necessary, to make sure their resolution “is an orderly process,” Lacker said.
These comments come on the heels of other questions being raised by other members of the Federal Reserve system which, taken together, do not bode well for the Volcker Rule.
For instance, in his testimony before the Senate Banking Committee at the end of March, Federal Reserve Governor Daniel Tarullo said that because of issues raised by the financial industry and lawmakers, “we probably need to provide some clarification” on the Volcker provisions.
In fact, legislation was floated that would postpone implementation of the Volcker rule from the July 21st deadline set by the Act and “align it with regulators’ completion” of rules for the ban. The legislation could give the regulators more time to decide whether the final rule should be scaled back.
In other words, a delay will give the financial industry more time to convince the watchdogs to put the measure on a short leash. The Senate bill was proposed by Mark Warner (D-VA) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), among others on both sides of the aisle.
Of course it may be no coincidence that the bill has bi-partisan support in a decisive election season. Then again, maybe it’s the regulators who need more time to get it together, since they will miss the July deadline for promulgating a rule to ban proprietary trading if not distinguish it with more clarity from market making.
And this is the overarching issue.
Banks fear that a lack of clarity could cause “market disruptions.” Better to postpone things until the agencies get their act together. The firms are also saying that the original version of the rule was “too complex and simply unworkable.”
“I think it is incumbent on all the regulators to provide some guidance for firms to let them know exactly what the expectations will be and not let this hang out there as an unknown, and I think we should be able to do that if necessary,” Mr. Tarullo said.
At the end of the day, all these comments and the delay in releasing a final rule spells trouble for the rule. In fact, one has to wonder if the Volcker Rule is doomed.
Kyle Colona is a New York based freelance writer and a Feature Writer for the Compliance Exchange. He has an extensive background in legal and regulatory affairs in the financial services sector and his work has appeared in a variety of print and on-line publications.