Shareholders Should Take Loss on Systemic Firms, Bernanke Says
The House Financial Services Committee on Thursday rounded out key hearings over the Administration's proposed financial regulatory reform. Lawmakers heard from Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke. Considering the Fed's presence throughout the Administration's proposals, the hearing seemed long overdue. Committee chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said in opening statements Bernanke's appearance was delayed by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting that took place concurrently. Bernanke wasted no time diving into the major issues of the proposed reform. His prepared remarks were generally supportive of efforts to ramp up transparency and protect consumer interests. He recommended five reform changes, including legislative change to ensure systemically important firms are subject to consolidated supervision. He suggested an oversight council composed of financial supervisors and regulators be established. He also recommended a new special resolution process to allow the government to wind down failing systemically important financial institutions, in the process imposing losses on shareholders and creditors of the firm. Bernanke said systemically important payment, clearing and settlement arrangements should be subject to oversight and prudent standards. He called for policy makers to ensure consumers are protected from unfair and deceptive practices at financial institutions. He aslo defended the Fed's authority and ability to oversee the financial industry. He indicated the Fed is equipped to continue acting as consolidated supervisor of some of the largest and most complex institutions and should serve as consolidated supervisor to systemic institutions not already subject to the Bank Holding Company Act. The Fed, he added, is also working on improving its regulation and supervision. "On the regulatory side, we played a key role in developing the recently announced, internationally-agreed improvements to the capital requirements for trading activities and securitization exposures, and we continue to work with other regulators to strengthen the capital requirements for other types of on- and off-balance-sheet exposures," Bernanke said in his testimony. "In addition, we are working with our fellow regulatory agencies toward the development of capital standards and other supervisory tools that would be calibrated to the systemic importance of the firm." For example, the Fed is considering requiring systemic firms to hold aggregate levels of capital above current standards or possibly maintain a greater share of capital in the form of common equity or similar instruments. Bernanke's comments come after a long week of hearings over reforming the financial industry. The committee first heard from US Treasury Department secretary Tim Geithner last week. Financial regulators then weighed in on the subject and former chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System Paul Volcker suggested the Fed should oversee the overall financial system. Write to Diana Golobay.