Marketplace Scratch Pad

Regulation pleas(e)

Scott Jagow Nov 19, 2009

Perhaps there’s hope for meaningful financial regulation after all. A couple of interesting quotes have me thinking that way today.

Bloomberg reports on a panel discussion last night called “Covering the Crisis.” Its focus was the media, but in the audience was John Mack, the former CEO of Morgan Stanley. Mack was asked for his views on the media’s coverage, but apparently, he had other things he wanted to say. Emphasis mine:

Mack, who plans to continue as chairman of New York-based Morgan Stanley after stepping down as CEO at the end of this year, said regulators should have been more active before the crisis. Mack, 65, said he even reached out to regulators after turning down the chance to finance a highly leveraged deal (8 times leverage) during the credit boom.

“I missed a piece of business,” Mack said he told the regulators. “I can live with that, but as soon as I hung up the phone someone else put up 10 times leverage. We cannot control ourselves. You have to step in and control the Street.”

Wow. That’s not all he said:

Check out the surprised looks he got. Analyst Meredith Whitney was surprised too:

“That would never be something I would say,” Whitney, founder of Meredith Whitney Advisory Group, said in a Bloomberg Radio interview today. “Your responsibility as a steward of shareholder capital is to abide by norms of business. I wouldn’t surrender control.”

Bloomberg also explores the idea that Elizabeth Warren, who’s heading up the oversight of TARP, would be perfect as head of the yet-to-be-created Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Again, emphasis mine:

In Elizabeth Warren’s world, credit card contracts would be so simple a teenager could read and understand them in four minutes. Loans would be as easy to compare as toasters, and online credit scores would be free.

“We need a new model: If you can’t explain it, you can’t sell it,” said Warren, 60, a Harvard University law professor who is head of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, in an interview.

There oughta be a law. If you can’t explain it, you can’t sell it. But not everyone is enamored with Warren:

A Warren nomination would tell banks that Obama is determined to force reduced checking-account fees and limit lender claims in mortgage advertising, among other measures the industry opposes, said Thomas Cooley, dean of New York University’s Stern School of Business.

“She is an ideological crusader,” Cooley said in an interview. “She is a person who will stir up a lot of trouble.” In a column in Forbes magazine, Cooley accused her of “waging a self-righteous holy war.”

Maybe what the country needs is a person who will stir up a lot of trouble. Maybe people will listen to Warren instead of ignoring the warnings like they did with Brooksley Born.

By the way, the Treasury Secretary testified this morning that Congress needs to pass regulation now for the health of the economy. From the New York Times:

Mr. Geithner said a key principle the administration wants to see adopted is ensuring that firms not be able to escape or avoid oversight by shopping for the most lenient regulator, a situation critics say contributed to the worst financial market crisis in seven decades.

“The fact that investment banks like Bear Stearns or Lehman Brothers or other large firms like A.I.G. could escape meaningful consolidated federal supervision simply by virtue of their legal form should be considered unthinkable from now on,” Mr. Geithner said.

Perhaps the crisis won’t be wasted after all.

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