Obama Financial Reform Plan Draws Mixed Reviews
The Obama administration's package of regulatory reforms for the financial sector provoked the usual concerns about big government and the hazards of unintended consequences. But others on Wall Street said it could help prevent a repeat of the nation's worst financial crisis in a century.
CNBC.com obtained a copy of the administration's massive white paper, which offers a wide range of reforms from creating a systemic risk regulator and a new consumer protection agency to enhanced oversight, such as registration of hedge funds and derivatives trading.
The President and his team of advisors will officially unveil the long-awaited plan this afternoon. Watch the President's speech on CNBC.com at 12:50 pm ET.
Supporters of the the plan said it was a reasonable and measured response.
Ralph Schlosstein, CEO of Evercore Partners, said the plan was "squarely in the middle" of the political spectrum, adding the administration wanted balance between "rules that protect the system...and unleash the competitive spirits of capitalism."
Meanwhile, legendary investor George Soros warned against relying too much on regulators, in an opinion piece in the Financial Times.
"While markets are imperfect, regulators are even more so. Not only are they human, they are also bureaucratic and subject to political influences, therefore regulations should be kept to a minimum," Soros wrote.
The highly-anticipated reform plan caps months of work for the White House. Though many of the measures had been leaked to the news media in recent weeks, the full plan lays a wide range of reforms in considerable detail.
"We need to be sure that the government has the tools it needs to manage crises, if and when they arise, so that we are not left with untenable choices between bailouts and financial collapse," the document said.
The plan would create a systemic risk council led by the Treasury Department, empower the Federal Reserve to keep tabs over large, too-big-to-fail firms and envisions a new resolution authority to help the government prevent the the failure of a large firm causing widespread damagero the overall economy, as Lehman Brothers' collapse did last year.
Reaction from industry trade groups was guarded but generally positive.
"The Roundtable supports many of the Administration’s proposals," said the Financial Services Roundtable in a statement, adding that"effective regulation is integral to a health financial system in the long term.
The group of big lenders threw its support behind the systemic regulator concept as well as resolution authotity but said it opposed the creation of a new consumer agency to oversee financial products and services.
The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association also endoresed several of the specific proposals.
"The financial services industry believes it is critical to our nation's economy that we work with policymakers in Washington to enact comprehensive reform this year to improve the accountability, transparency, investor protection and oversight of financial markets," said SIFMA, in a statement.
In Washington, Republican lawmakers welcomed some proposals, but were quick to emhasize that the legislative rocess has just begun.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., called the plan an "interesting first step" but added "a number of issues need to be looked into."
It also introduces regulation for the largely-secretive hedge funds and stipulates that securities originators should maintain 5 percent of the risk on their books to prevent the model of quick originate and distribute which has been partly to blame for the crisis to put the global economy in danger again.
“We're going to have a plethora of regulators in the US and in my own experience…that doesn't really work particularly well,” Alastair Newton, political analyst at Nomura, told CNBC.
The plan, which is due to be debated in Congress, has already had its critics on some of the main points. For instance, the 5 percent of the risk that securities originators must keep on their books is too low, some analysts say.
"I'm not sure it's really going to overcome the incentives that banks have to earn fees from securitizations. That 5 percent limit has already been introduced in Europe and we'll have to see how it works," Robert Finney, head of financial markets and partner at Denton Wilde Sapte, said.
His view was also shared by Soros, who wrote that derivatives should be regulated as severely as stocks, and that some of them, like credit default swaps, should be outlawed.