Sip slowly, this explainer was hard to write. There is a considerable amount of perplexed frustration following on the heels of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testifying to the Senate Banking Committee earlier today and specifically saying:
02:20 Glass-Steagall? “we do not support a separation of banks from investment banks, we think that would have a very significant problem on the financial markets, on the economy, on liquidity; and we think that there is proper things that potentially we could look at around regulation, but we do not support a separation of banks and investment banks.”
That statement runs counter to the Trump administration’s prior policy statements outlining a preference for a reinstatement of some form of “Glass-Steagall” regulatory separation between commercial banking and investment banking.
In essence when combined with the totality of Mnuchin’s testimony before the committee, Mnuchin is saying the current “too big to fail” (‘too big to succeed’) issue has created a problem for lending liquidity. Specifically, if divisional separation is required – the banks best interests would naturally put the investment division ahead of commercial lending and the liquid capital within the overall economy would shrink.
I think we have a handle on what the administration is doing based on the executive orders signed and explained earlier. Bear with me…
Back in July 2010 when Dodd-Frank banking regulation was passed into law, there were approximately 12 to 17 banks who fell under the definition of “too big to fail”.
Meaning 12 to 17 financial institutions could individually negatively impact the economy, and were going to force another TARP-type bailout if they failed in the future. Dodd-Frank regulations were supposed to ensure financial security, and the elimination of risk via taxpayer bailouts, by placing mandatory minimums on how much secure capital was required to be held in order to operate “a bank”.
One large downside to Dodd-Frank was that in order to hold the required capital, all banks decreased lending to shore-up their liquid holdings and meet the regulatory minimums. Without the ability to borrow funds, small businesses have a hard time raising money to create business. Growth in the larger economy is hampered by the absence of capital.
Another downstream effect of banks needing to increase their liquid holdings was exponentially worse. Less liquid large banks needed to purchase and absorb the financial assets of more liquid large banks in order to meet the regulatory requirements.
Unfortunately, because of Dodd-Frank by 2016 those twelve banks had merged into only four even bigger banks that were now even bigger risks; albeit supposedly more financially secure in their liquid holdings. This ‘less banks’ reality was opposite of the desired effect.
The four to six big banks (JP Morgan-Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, US BanCorp and Mellon) now control $9+ trillion (that’s “TRILLION). Their size is so enormous that small group now controls most of the U.S. financial market.
Because they control so much of the financial market, instituting a Glass-Steagall firewall between commercial and investment divisions (in addition to the Dodd-Frank liquid holding requirements), would mean the capability of small and mid-size businesses to get the loans needed to expand or even keep their operations running would stop.
2010’s “Too few, too big to fail” became 2016’s “EVEN FEWER, EVEN BIGGER to fail”.
That’s the underlying problem for a Glass-Steagall type of regulation now. The Democrats created Dodd-Frank which: #1 generated constraints on the economy (less lending), #2 made fewer banking options available (banks merged), #3 made top banks even bigger.
This problem is why President Trump and Secretary Mnuchin are working to create a parallel banking system of community and credit union banks that are external to Dodd Frank regulations and can act as the primary commercial banks for small to mid-sized businesses.
The goal of “Glass Steagall”, ie. Commercial division -vs- Investment division, is created by generating an entirely new system of banks under different regulation. The currently remaining ten U.S. “big banks” operate as “investment division banks” per se’, and the lesser regulated community banks/credit unions operate as would be the “Commercial Side”.
Instead of firewalling an individual bank internally within its organization, the Trump/Mnuchin plan looks to be firewalling the banking ‘system’ within the U.S. internally. Hope that makes sense.
Therein lies the fundamental breakdown in communication between Secretary Mnuchin and Senator Elizabeth Warren.