Since commerce began centuries ago, regulations existed. Ancient cuneiform tablets found in Iraq during the 1940s date back over 2,000 years and spell out formal rules for commerce. During the Roman heyday, Emperor Tiberus (A.D 14 to A.D. 37) enforced long-ignored usury laws triggering a credit crunch and subsequent real-estate crash.
Ignoring record profits, banks in the United States now lobby their allies in Congress for a lighter regulatory touch. For example, in the first quarter of 2018 bank profits rose more than 25 percent compared with 2017. While lower tax rates helped, of the $56 billion in net income, less than $8 billion came from tax cuts.
Smaller financial institutions persuaded Congress to exempt them from Dodd-Frank guidelines. Their logic makes sense. A small bank failure can’t affect the national economy since they don’t participate in complex trading like larger entities. While being sold as relief for undersized institutions, the regulations exempted all but a handful of gigantic banks.
Buoyed by their success helping their little cousins, the big boys, like Citigroup Inc. and JP Morgan Chase, propose redefining how mega-banks treat credit default swaps (CDS). Big banks want exemption from collateral rules instituted after The Great Recession. CDS are not inherently evil, but if you choose to profit from them, you should have adequate reserves in case your bet blows up. The cost of undercapitalized credit default swaps falls to taxpayers via government bailouts or to the general population in economic damage.
No anti-capitalist here by a long shot. Regulations reduce, not eliminate, the chaos capitalism generates. Only fools ignore banking crises. Here’s a partial list of ones in the US: 1819, 1826, 1837, 1839, 1857, 1873, 1884, 1890, 1907, The Great Depression, 1998 and 2007-2009. We were on the precipice of economic disaster in 2008. Fortunately sane heads, Republicans, Democrats, liberals, and conservatives, prevailed then. Today’s lineup gives me pause.
The Wall Street Journal, primarily owned by the Rupert Murdock family, reported the financial industry’s savvy marketing trick. Congressional Republicans threaten funding for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) unless weaker default swap rules pass. We need a strong CFTC unless we want another disaster. CFTC chair Brooksley Born warned about 2008 10 years before it happened. Her male counterparts ignored her warning, either by hubris or foolishness.
If you are on track for a secure retirement take less risk. If you don’t know, find out. It makes little sense to take unnecessary chances. Don’t overestimate your ability to ignore steep market declines. Retirees face a different scenario. Market downturns are no longer bouyed by retirement plan contributions. Safer investments mean lower earnings but the return of your money is more important than the return on your money.
You can’t always get what you want, but Buz Livingston, CFP can help figure out what you need. For specific recommendations, visit livingstonfinancial.net or come by the office in Redfish Village, 2050 Scenic 30A, M-1 Suite 230.