Can Goldman’s Rapacity and Trump’s Stupidity Together Actually Save Banking?

Trump’s two main economic advisors are telling him to do something great – resurrect Glass Steagall! He is too stupid to realize these two – Goldman pod people Cohn and Mnuchin – are doing this so all their gazillions in deferred investments in the firm grow even more grotesque. But so what? For once, having a malleable moron in the White House could be a good thing!

A new Glass-Steagall would split (taxpayer-insured, whether de jure or de facto) commercial banking from the casino of investment banking and go a long way toward unloading the Too Big To Fail gun that tumescent, serially incompetent commercial-investment bank hybrids like Citi hold to the heads of policymakers.

Effect on  (pure-ish play investment bank) Goldman? Zilch. Unless you count how happy they’ll be to see their big competitors – Citi, JPMC, BofA et al – kneecapped. You can bet Cohn and Mnuchin are smiling at The Donald’ s cluelessness. For once, we can, too.

Via Bloomberg: Trump Says He’s Considering Moves to Break Up Wall Street Banks





Trump Could Hold Key to Fermi’s UFO Paradox

Forget illegal aliens. The Trump ascent could explain why we’re not overrun by extraterrestrials.

In two months Donald Trump will gain the ability to singlehandedly destroy the human race. The US nuclear arsenal has the power to render the planet uninhabitable. In his public statements during the campaign, Trump expressed a willingness to use such weapons, more so than any president in the post-war era. He might therefore hold the answer to a paradox first posited by the inventor of the first nuclear reactor, Enrico Fermi, who asked why, given the overwhelming likelihood of there being extraterrestrial life, we’ve got no evidence for it.

Fermi summed up his paradox with the question, “Where is everybody?” The question arose from the Drake equation, which estimates the number of habitable worlds in the universe – assumptions that astrophysicists have increased tenfold in recent months.

At the time, scientists conservatively estimated that there were 100 billion billion habitable planets in the universe, or about 100 habitable planets for every grain of sand on Earth. Since our Sun is relatively young, at least some of these other planets should have generated civilizations billions of years older than our own, capable of space exploration. Those within our galaxy would have ample time to get to our neck of the woods, despite the distances involved.

Hence, Fermi’s question – why is there no credible evidence of extraterrestrial life?

One theory – the “eraser” idea – is that civilizations capable of deep space travel are inevitably also capable of destroying themselves, and all civilizations end up doing so, one way or another.

Pretty grim thought. Trump’s ascent won’t necessarily prove nor disprove it – if we’re lucky. Let’s hope Fermi’s question remains paradoxical for another four years.

Watchdog’s MetLife Blunder Boosts Systemic Risk

If MetLife’s escape from too-big-to-fail scrutiny leads to a rush for the exits by more obvious financial time bombs, regulators only have themselves to blame.

The country’s largest insurer just convinced a Federal court that the Financial Stability Oversight Council’s designation of it as a “systemically important financial institution” under the post-Crisis Dodd-Frank rules was arbitrary and capricious.

The details of the ruling, handed down on March 30, are sealed until April 6, but other non-bank SIFIs are already straining at the leash.

GE filed an application with the FSOC today to have its SIFI status removed. It and MetLife are two of four non-bank SIFIs – the other two are Prudential and AIG. Prudential has kept mum on its plans; AIG – the near-death experience of which was one of the most painful pain points of the Crisis – hasn’t a prayer. Its $180 billion government bailout and de facto nationalization saw to that.

In 2013 and 2014 the FSOC, a panel of financial regulators set up under Dodd-Frank in large part to oversee potential basket cases, lumped these four in with more straightforward financial time bombs – investment banks and commercial banks like Goldman, JP Morgan, Citi and others. From the FSOC’s statement at the time:

Under Section 113 of the Dodd-Frank Act, the Council is authorized to determine that a nonbank financial company’s material financial distress—or the nature, scope, size, scale, concentration, interconnectedness, or mix of its activities—could pose a threat to U.S. financial stability. Such companies will be subject to consolidated supervision by the Federal Reserve and enhanced prudential standards.

GE boss Jeff Immelt never claimed that GE Capital – once the biggest commercial paper issuer and the entity that generated over half the financial-industrial behemoth’s sales at its height – wasn’t systematically important. He has spent the last couple of years slashing GE Capital assets by some $160 billion, reducing its contributions to revenues from half to just under 10 percent.

The MetLife court case is the real problem for FSOC. It seems from MetLife’s complaint, and the bits and pieces reporters have gleaned from the court ruling, that FSOC failed to make a convincing argument that the insurance business model was subject to capital pressure due to customers’ “running for the exits” – akin to a run on a bank – and that this vulnerability threatened the financial system due to the firm’s size and interconnectedness. Bloomberg View’s Matt Levine has a run-down on the argument here. MetLife also claims the FSOC never did a vulnerability analysis. If so, that’s at best sloppy and at worst terribly arrogant regulatory behavior.

Step back for a second. MetLife says its business model is not subject to runs because it issues long-term liabilities (insurance policies) that customers cannot cash in at will. But FSOC, if anyone’s awake there, knows the trouble isn’t with the firm’s liabilities, it’s with its assets.

This is an industry wide problem. Insurance margins have been crushed by low rates; the need to shimmy further and further down the credit spectrum in search of yield has been tempting. Like banks making mortgages, insurers are in the maturity transformation business – borrow short, lend (or insure) long, and hope to the gods things add up in the end.

That’s where the risk in an institution like MetLife lurks. But it’s not a contagious risk. If assets fall short of liabilities, shareholders get screwed first, then, perhaps, policyholders, although that would be almost unthinkable with a firm of MetLife’s size.

So by designating MetLife a non-bank SIFI, regulators did two things. First, they stretched the rationale for such a designation to the point where the firm was able to blow it up in court (against expectations – MetLife was so sure of losing it had begun to execute plans to spin off many of its business lines). And as a result, they gave the anti-regulation camp a shot in the arm – and that could lead to more systemic risk, not less.