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Friday, 11 March 2016 15:01

Should We Break Up The Big Banks?

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One Federal Reserve official says we should rethink our financial system.

 

The newest Federal Reserve policymaker just put forth a radical proposal. Neel Kashkari thinks America’s big banks should be broken up, the sooner the better.

This opinion comes from the man who once directed TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program that bailed out giant banks in the Great Recession. Kashkari was assistant secretary of the Treasury at that time. This year, he became president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, two years after running for governor of California.1

On February 16, Kashkari spoke at the Brookings Institution and delivered, as one Bloomberg article put it, “a speech that [read] like a cover letter on a resume sent to the White House c/o Bernie Sanders.” Specifically, he called for “serious consideration” of three ideas.1

The first: “Breaking up large banks into smaller, less connected, less important entities.” The second: “Turning large banks into public utilities by forcing them to hold so much capital that they virtually can’t fail (with regulation akin to that of a nuclear power plant).” The third: “Taxing leverage throughout the financial system to reduce systemic risks wherever they lie.”1

While the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 increased regulation of behemoth banks, Kashkari is hardly satisfied with it. As he told the Washington Post recently, “Policymakers have been telling Congress, or maybe Congress has been telling the American people, that Dodd-Frank has solved too big to fail. And I’m saying I don’t believe it.”2

The above reforms would require the approval of Congress. So Kashkari wants to deliver a proposal to Capitol Hill, with input from “leaders from policy and regulatory institutions [and] the financial industry.” All of these parties would convene to “offer their views and to test one another’s assumptions” pursuant to a bill.1

Is this kind of reform necessary? Many voices on Wall Street contend that Dodd-Frank was actually unnecessary, that the credit crisis of the late 2000s never would have occurred if markets, regulators, and Congress had simply abided by existing rules.1,2,3,4

Others have called for big bank downsizing before this, including some Fed officials. In 2012, the Dallas Fed put out an annual report entitled Choosing the Road to Prosperity: Why We Must End Too Big to Fail – Now. Its president, Richard Fisher, has talked of restructuring large banks into “multiple business entities.” St. Louis Fed president James Bullard once introduced the idea of limiting the size of individual U.S. banks to a percentage of annualized GDP.3,4

Of course, not too long ago the federal government helped make the biggest banks even bigger. As it decided certain financial institutions were “too big to fail” during the credit crisis, it also brokered some deals: Bank of America bought up Merrill Lynch and JPMorgan acquired Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns. JPMorgan and Bank of America both received significant help from TARP as a consequence. Taxpayers made a profit on TARP, and Kashkari says TARP was the right move at the right time. However, he prefers that history not repeat.1,5

The “too big to fail” idea contends that the nation’s largest banks need a federal backstop if threatened with collapse, because their failure would wreck the economy. Its adherents argue that a giant bank is a better bank, providing more services here and in emerging markets, benefiting from economies of scale that make their services cheaper than services of smaller banks. These banks, the thinking goes, deserve a safety net in a catastrophe.1,2,3,4

To other observers, the top U.S. banks have grown frighteningly large. An analysis conducted by SNL Financial last year found that just five banks held almost 45% of the U.S. banking industry’s total assets in 2014, about $7 trillion. To put this in perspective, World Bank data shows the entire 2014 U.S. GDP at $17.4 trillion.6,7

In time, market forces may actually accomplish what Kashkari would prefer to see. With TARP long gone, the largest banks have had to bolster their capital ratios, a potential disadvantage as they compete with smaller banks and online lenders. So new competitors (and new lending and financial services platforms) could soon emerge to take away some of their business.1

Kashkari does not want to wait. With the economy in comparatively good health, “the time has come to move past parochial interests and solve this problem,” Kashkari said in his February 16 speech. “The risks of not doing so are just too great.”5

      

 

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note - investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 - bloomberg.com/gadfly/articles/2016-02-17/let-s-make-sure-neel-kashkari-s-right-before-splitting-up-banks [2/17/16]

2 - washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/02/17/neel-kashkari-oversaw-the-bailout-of-the-big-banks-now-he-wants-to-break-them-up/ [2/17/16]

3 - business.time.com/2012/03/22/break-up-the-banks-dallas-fed-president-calls-for-the-end-of-too-big-to-fail/ [3/22/12]

4 - bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-02-16/fed-s-kashkari-floats-breaking-up-big-banks-to-avert-melt-down [2/16/16]

5 - money.cnn.com/2016/02/17/news/economy/neel-kashkari-breaking-up-too-big-to-fail-banks/ [2/17/16]

6 - cnbc.com/2015/04/15/5-biggest-banks-now-own-almost-half-the-industry.html [4/15/15]

7 - data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD [2/18/16]

Wednesday, 02 March 2016 16:39

White House Proposes Changes to Retirement Plans

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A look at some of the ideas contained in the 2017 federal budget.

Will workplace retirement plans be altered in the near future? The White House will propose some changes to these plans in the 2017 federal budget, with the goal of making such programs more accessible. Here are some of the envisioned changes.

Pooled employer-sponsored retirement programs. This concept could save small businesses money. Current laws permit multi-employer retirement plans, but the companies involved must be similar in nature. The White House wants to lift that restriction.1,2

In theory, allowing businesses across disparate industries to join pooled retirement plans could result in significant savings. Administrative expenses could be reduced, as well as the costs of compliance.

Would governmental and non-profit workplaces also be allowed to pool their retirement plans under the proposal? There is no word about that at this point.

This pooled retirement plan concept would offer employees new degrees of portability for their savings. A worker leaving a job at a participating firm in the pool would be able to retain his or her retirement account after taking a job with another of the participating firms. Along these lines, the White House will also propose new ways to make it easier for workers to monitor and reconcile multiple workplace retirement accounts.2,3

Scant details have emerged about how these pooled plans would be created or governed, or how much implementing them would cost taxpayers. Congress will be asked for $100 million in the new budget draft to test new and more portable forms of retirement savings accounts. Presumably, many more details will surface when the proposed federal budget becomes public in February.2,3

Automatic enrollment in IRAs. In the new federal budget draft, the Obama administration will require businesses with more than 10 employees and no retirement savings program to enroll their workers in IRAs. This idea has been included in past federal budget drafts, but it has yet to survive bipartisan negotiations – and it may not this time. Recently, the myRA retirement account was created through executive action to try and promote this objective.1,3

A lower bar to retirement plan participation for part-time employees. Another proposal within the new budget would allow anyone who has worked for an employer for more than 500 hours a year for the past three years to participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan.2

A bigger tax break for businesses starting retirement plans. Eligible employers can receive a federal tax credit for inaugurating a retirement plan – a credit for 50% of what the IRS deems the employer’s “ordinary and necessary eligible startup costs,” up to a maximum of $500. That credit (which is part of the general business credit) may be claimed for each of the first three years that the plan is in place, and a business may even elect to begin claiming it in the tax year preceding the tax year that the plan goes into effect. The White House wants the IRS to boost this annual credit from $500 to $1,500.2,4

Also, businesses could receive an annual federal tax credit of up to $500 merely for automatically enrolling workers in their retirement plans. As per the above credit, they could claim this for three straight years.2

What are the odds of these proposals making it into the final 2017 federal budget? The odds may be long. Through the decades, federal budget drafts have often contained “blue sky” visions characteristic of this or that presidency, ideas that are eventually compromised or jettisoned. That may be the case here. If the above concepts do become law, they may change the face of retirement plan participation and administration.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note - investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.      

Citations.

1 - nytimes.com/2016/01/26/us/obama-to-urge-easing-401-k-rules-for-small-businesses.html [1/26/16]

2 - tinyurl.com/je5uj3r [1/26/16]

3 - bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2016-01-26/obama-seeks-to-expand-401-k-use-by-letting-employers-pool-plans [1/26/16]

4 - irs.gov/Retirement-Plans/Retirement-Plans-Startup-Costs-Tax-Credit [8/18/15]

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