Friday, January 22, 2010
It sounds as though there's some disagreement between President Obama and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner about what exactly is being proposed in the latest populist plan to rein in Wall Street's biggest banks.
Tom Petruno of the LA Times notes that, in this PBS interview last night, the main man at the Treasury Department demurred when pushed on the subject of "breaking up the banks".
In looking at the transcript, it seems clear that there's some kind of a disconnect.
From the LA Times story:
Woodruff: So in essence, are you saying big banks need to be broken up?Why is it that, somehow, this isn't that surprising?
Geithner: No, this does not propose that. What this does is try to make sure we limit risk-taking -- the kind of risks that could threaten the stability of the system in the future.
Woodruff: I ask because banks are already saying -- and there was a CFO of Goldman Sachs who said today, this is not practical for us to separate, for example, private equity from the other work that we do. We hear other bankers saying we’re going to have to lay people off, it’s going to hurt our business.
Geithner: You’re going to hear a lot of concerns from bankers about this and, you know, we’re involved in a very important cause, which is to try to work with Congress to put in place a set of reforms that will prevent this from happening again. And that’s going to require a lot of changes.
Woodruff: Let me ask you about one particular aspect, and that is banks that would separate some of their investment operations. Does it mean, for example, that at JPMorgan – without naming a bank, that in essence, would have to spin off its investment operations?
Geithner: Banks will have some choice about how they comply with this, and it’s going to have to change, result in some changes. And we’re going to work very carefully with the Congress and the regulators to make sure we do this in a sensible way.
But again, the basic principle is that banks that have the privilege of taking advantage of the safety net [of government deposit insurance] should not use that to subsidize risky activity. I think it’s a simple principle, I think people can understand that and we’re going to do it in a careful, well-designed way.