Dodd-Frank delay: America is vulnerable to a lack of financial rules

Pittsburgh Post-GazetteJuly 10, 2014 

The following editorial appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Wednesday, July 9:

Six years since the financial industry had to be resuscitated by the federal government, the American economy still remains at risk from another catastrophic episode of over-speculation and bailouts.

It's been four years since the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act, which promised to overhaul the financial sector. But many of the law's regulations on proprietary trading, opaque derivatives and the health of America's banks have been delayed or watered down by slow-moving agencies within the Obama administration, namely the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

As of July 1, only 208 of the 398 rules required by Dodd-Frank had been finalized, according to Davis, Polk and Wardwell LLP, a law firm that tracks the law's progress. About 45 percent of the deadlines for making rules have been missed.

The heart of the legislation, the Volcker Rule, was supposed to go into effect in July 2012 but has been delayed to 2015. The Volcker Rule bans proprietary trading, where banks make risky investments with clients' money instead of their own, and limits investment in hedge funds and private equity.

At the same time, large banks seem to have resumed the bad behavior that contributed to the Great Recession. JP Morgan trader Bruno Iksil, known as the London Whale, lost billions after gambling on credit default swaps, the same messy instruments that almost killed AIG. Citibank faces a lawsuit over its handling of mortgage securities and failed its Federal Reserve stress test in June, meaning that the company's risky balance sheet could imperil the broader economy.

While Congress has been predictably unhelpful on financial regulation since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2010, the Obama administration deserves most of the blame. It should not take five years to implement the keystone of any law, no matter how complex.

The revolving door between financial regulators and big banks might explain the foot-dragging. Last month, the SEC approved a rule with a clear loophole letting international affiliates of U.S. banks evade derivatives trading regulations. Until the executive branch moves more seriously toward faithfully executing the law, American consumers will remain exposed to the excesses of unregulated markets.

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