POLITICS

Tim Carney: How Dodd-Frank helps the big banks

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney

President Obama touted his 2010 Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill as a broadside to the big banks. As with Obama’s similar claims on tobacco, health care, and fiscal cliff legislation, this was false. The legislation, while it poses some threat to big banks, looks like it will ultimately benefit the financial giants.

Here’s the most recent evidence:

1. Regulation disproportionately hurts small guys

The Columbia Business Times reports on small banks fearing they’ll be crushed by regulations, which the big banks can handle:

Local bankers fear the Dodd-Frank law passed in 2010 will hasten the demise of small banks and lead to the “Walmartization” of consumer banking.

“In mid-Missouri, generally, I think we’ll probably see some smaller banks acquired by bigger banks, first of all,” says John Howe, Missouri bankers chair and professor of finance at the University of Missouri….

“Do I think it will be more difficult?” Barnes asks. “Yes. There is a certain size and scale that [banks] simply will have to get to in order to handle the new changes, and a little community bank that has one branch in one location in a small town will likely struggle to survive on its own.”…

With a new layer of scrutiny, Dodd-Frank weakens the community banking relationship, Barnes says. “Our ability to do relationship banking is inhibited to some degree by additional regulation because it doesn’t give us the flexibility to maybe create a product for you that fits you best. The added burden of regulation makes for more vanilla products.”

And another advantage of a smaller bank: It can make decisions locally, while a larger bank can’t, Barnes says. “If you have a branch whose manager can’t make it right, then that’s not a community bank. That’s what’s frustrating about all the layers of regulation. The person coming from Washington, D.C., to look at our bank and examine what we do and how we do it doesn’t know our client base. We do.”

This is not particular to Dodd Frank or to banking. Regulation, in general, disproportionately hurts smaller businesses, which is why bigger business often supports more regulation. A former Treasury official told Newsweek in 2011 that Dodd-Frank would make the biggest banks nearly government agencies:

In my mind,” he says, “they’ve created six new GSEs,” or government-sponsored entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.”

2. The big guys have ways of avoiding the regulations

Two aspects of Dodd-Frank most excited liberals eager to curb the big banks. First was the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Second was the “Volcker Rule,” supposedly banning “proprietary trading” — as Obama would put it, behaving like a hedge fund. I doubted that this would place very strict constraints on the likes of Goldman or JP Morgan, whose infamous “London Whale” loss of 2012 could definitely have been considered hedging allowed by the Volcker Rule.

Sure enough, Bloomberg reports that Goldman is still doing prop trading:

Michael DuVally, a Goldman Sachs spokesman, said in an e- mail that MSI engages in long-term investing and lending. A 2011 proposal for implementing the Volcker rule uses a 60-day cutoff to classify short-term trades.

“We have made changes to the strategies this business historically has employed to bring them into compliance with our current understanding of the Volcker rule,” said DuVally, who declined to make MSI executives available for interviews. “If the final rule requires additional changes, we’ll make them.”

Goldman and JPM will navigate around the rules with the help of former congressional and administration officials who helped write and implement Dodd-Frank — the likes of former Treasury Deputy Secretary Jeffrey Goldstein and Senate Banking Committee Chief Counsel Amy Friend.

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