Sunday, October 19, 2008

Treasury Wants Regulators to Change Rules

by Bill McBride on 10/19/2008 09:33:00 AM

From the WaPo: U.S. Bank Plan Hits Snag in Rules (hat tip Mark)

The Treasury Department is pressing federal banking regulators to change longstanding rules that are in the way of its plan to invest $250 billion in American banks, raising questions about the independence of the regulatory agencies.

Treasury's plan, announced Tuesday, rests on the ability of banks to use the government's money to buttress their core capital, the financial foundation that supports a bank's operations. Those foundations have been eroded by recent losses, limiting lending to customers and damaging the broader economy.

But under federal banking regulations at the time of the announcement, investments with the conditions attached by Treasury cannot be counted as core capital because that category is reserved for only the most stable kinds of funding.

Now, federal regulators are rushing to clear the road for the rescue plan. The Federal Reserve issued new rules Thursday evening creating a special exception for Treasury's investment. Other agencies are considering following suit.

It is the latest in a string of ad hoc measures to address the financial crisis, highlighting the haste of Treasury's massive and historic interventions and, critics say, a breakdown of the traditional separation between policymakers and banking regulators.
In what amounted to a partial nationalization of the banking system, Treasury announced that it would invest $125 billion in nine of the nation's largest banks and an additional $125 billion in the rest of the industry. In exchange, the banks would give the government an unusual kind of stock called senior preferred shares. Holders of these shares are excluded from shareholder votes on company business, but they receive annual interest payments and their shares have priority in the event of a bankruptcy.

"The senior preferred shares will qualify as Tier 1 [core] capital," Treasury said in a release announcing the program.

Treasury officials said yesterday that they knew that the rules on core capital needed to be changed to make that true.
Just another interesting twist.

Note: I'll be back home sometime tomorrow - sorry I haven't responded to all the emails.