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Janet Yellen: System is safer now, though 'all-too-familiar' risks remain

  • Fed Chair Janet Yellen says actions regulators took in the wake of the financial crisis have made the system safer.
  • She cautions that risks remain though the crisis has taught lessons.
  • Her remarks came during the Fed's annual conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and did not address future monetary policy actions.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, looking back a decade after the onset of the financial crisis, said Friday the financial system is safer now than it was then though some adjustments to regulations may be needed.

The central bank chief spoke at the Fed's annual conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Though the speech is closely watched in financial markets, Yellen offered no clues about the future of monetary policy, instead focusing on the history of the crisis and what regulators have done in response. She warned that future crises are inevitable but said the housing meltdown taught valuable lessons.

"The events of the crisis demanded action, needed reforms were implemented, and these reforms have made the system safer," she said in prepared remarks.

Yellen rejected arguments that regulation had stifled banking activity, insisting that higher capital requirements actually promoted loan growth.

Her review came less than six months before her term ends in February. President Donald Trump has been circumspect about whether he will reappoint her, and Yellen has refused to speculate about her future.

Fed watchers had been looking for some level of reflection from Yellen about the Fed's response to the crisis, and that was the focus of the speech. She cited the need for the bailout programs put into place in response to a liquidity crush on Wall Street and touted the effectiveness of the new regulations, such as the Dodd-Frank reforms.

However, she said the Fed is continually reviewing the moves to see what's working and what might be holding back the system.

"A broader set of changes to the new financial regulatory framework may deserve consideration. Such changes include adjustments that may simplify regulations applying to small and medium-sized banks and enhance resolution planning," she said.

"More broadly, we continue to monitor economic conditions, and to review and conduct research, to better understand the effect of regulatory reforms and possible implications for regulation."

For instance, she said the Volcker Rule, which limits banks' ability to trade for their own benefit, may need some "simplifying." She also said regulations should be examined to make sure they aren't disproportionately harming community and regional banks.

She cautioned against wholesale changes, particularly when it comes to risk-taking in the financial markets.

"Any adjustments to the regulatory framework should be modest and preserve the increase in resilience at large dealers and banks associated with the reforms put in place in recent years," she said.

Yellen also was expected to address the current climate and the potential for dangers ahead like the real estate bubble that precipitated the crisis.

Fed officials have expressed varying levels of worry about the continuing climb of risk assets like stocks.

Indeed, Yellen cited the likelihood of "the all-too-familiar risks of excessive optimism, leverage and maturity transformation re-emerging in new ways that require policy responses."

"We relearned this lesson through the pain inflicted by the crisis," she said. "We can never be sure that new crises will not occur, but if we keep this lesson fresh in our memories — along with the painful cost that was exacted by the recent crisis — and act accordingly, we have reason to hope that the financial system and economy will experience fewer crises and recover from any future crisis more quickly, sparing households and businesses some of the pain they endured during the crisis that struck a decade ago."

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