Barack Obama has named Gary Gensler, a former Treasury official under President Bill Clinton, to take over the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).
New York Times:
Mr. Obama has vowed to reverse the deregulatory stance of the Bush administration and overhaul the entire system of financial supervision. Though Mr. Obama’s team has not mapped a specific plan, advisers on his transition team said reining in derivatives would be one of the biggest and most complicated parts of that effort.
Wall Street Journal:
Is deregulation to blame? – by Reason Magazine
2) The Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 guaranteed that high-risk tools such as credit default swaps remained unregulated, opting instead to encourage a “self-regulation” that neverhappened.
In late September, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Christopher Cox estimated the worldwide market in credit default swaps —pieces of paper insuring against the default of various financial instruments, especially mortgage securities— at $58 trillion, compared with $600 billion in the first half of 2001. This is a notional value- only a small fraction of that amount has actually changed hands in the market. But the astounding growth of these instruments contributed to the over-leveraging of nearly all financial institutions.
In the late 1990s, the fight over these and other exotic new derivatives pitted a committed regulator named Brooksley E. Born, head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, against the powerhouse triumvirate of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt Jr. Unsurprisingly, Greenspan, Rubin, and Levitt won. The result was the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which gave the SEC only limited anti-fraud oversight of swaps and otherwise relied on industry self-regulation. The Washington Post has closely chronicled the clash, concluding that “derivatives did not trigger what has erupted into the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression. But their proliferation, and the uncertainty about their real values, accelerated the recent collapses of the nation’s venerable investment houses and magnified the panic that has since crippled the global financial system.” In other words: The absence of a regulation didn’t cause the crisis, but it may have exacerbated it.
Part of the problem was a technicality. Instruments such as credit default swaps aren’t quite the same thing as futures, and therefore do not fall under the Commodity Commission’s purview. But the real issue was that Greenspan, Rubin, and Levitt were concerned that the sight of important figures in the financial world publicly warring over the legality and appropriate uses of the derivatives could itself create dangerous instability. The 2000 law left clearing-house and insurance roles to self-regulation. Without a clearinghouse, the market for credit default swaps was opaque, and no one ever really knew how extensive or how worthless the derivatives were.
In congressional testimony on October 23, Greenspan seems to have admitted error: “Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief,” he told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. But Greenspan still wasn’t convinced that regulation is the solution: “Whatever regulatory changes are made, they will pale in comparison to the change already evident in today’s markets,” he said at the same event. “Those markets for an indefinite future will be far more restrained than would any currently contemplated new regulatory regime.”
Previously: New SEC Chief
– CFTC’s Concept Release on the Appropriate Regulatory Treatment of Event Contracts…- notably how they define “-event markets”-, how they are going to extend their “-exemption”- to other IEM-like prediction exchanges, and how they framed their questions to the public.
– American Enterprise Institute’s proposals to legalize the real-money prediction markets in the United States of America