House Panel Sets Hearing on Systemic Risk

As Ben Bernanke delivered largely unsurprising remarks Tuesday suggesting that a formalized regulatory structure was needed to manage future potential failures of large investment banks, lawmakers in the House of Representatives said they would hold the first of a series of hearings on growing systemic risk in the nation’s financial markets. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) said that the hearing, scheduled for July 10, would include testimony from Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke. Future hearings will feature invited testimony from New York Federal Reserve president Timothy Geithner, Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Christopher Cox, as well as other federal regulators, academics, economists and market participants, Frank said. Sources suggested the Bernanke’s upcoming remarks in Thursday’s testimony are likely to echo much of what was said Tuesday morning at an FDIC forum on affordable lending practices. Bernanke said that the Fed was set to roll out new lending standards under the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act next week; the new rules were originally proposed late last year. Chief among the expected changes are new rules limiting the application of prepayment penalties in subprime lending, along with a few other changes that at this point should probably be considered par for the regulatory course: escrowing for taxes and insurance, qualifying at the fully-indexed rate, and limitations on the use of low-doc mortgages among subprime borrowers. The Fed chief also pushed for regulatory authority over investment banks. “Strong holding company oversight is essential and thus, in my view, the Congress should consider requiring consolidated supervision of those firms, providing the regulator the authority to set standards for capital, liquidity holdings, and risk management,” he said. “More generally, in the longer term, the Congress should consider whether our current regulatory structure needs to be modernized to address the changes that have occurred in the structure of the financial system.” Somewhat surprisingly, Bernanke did not remark on either Fannie Mae (FNM) or Freddie Mac (FRE) in the wake of yesterdays stock price freefall, saying only that he welcomed “recent efforts to improve the regulatory oversight of the government-sponsored enterprises.” Disclosure: The author held no positions in FNM or FRE when this story was originally published. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade.

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