New Year Gives FSOC More Chances to Flex Muscle

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"If you are meeting that much it suggests you are really gelling as a group," said Ernest Patrikis, a partner with White & Case LLP and former general counsel of the New York Federal Reserve. "This is a successor of the President's Working Group. Part of it was to get the principals in the room to talk and get the views on the table and that's just invaluable. When crisis time comes it just makes things easier."

To be sure, the frequency of FSOC meetings was also likely driven by events of the past year, such as the failure of MF Global Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s multibillion-dollar trading loss, the Libor scandal, and then finally Hurricane Sandy. (The council is comprised of 15 total regulators.)

In the case of Hurricane Sandy — which ripped through New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — regulators met twice during the week of the storm to discuss the impact on the financial system. Each respective FSOC agency raised its particular concerns. For state banking regulators, it was the availability of cash and the ability of their banking networks to work across state lines. The SEC was concerned about reopening stock exchanges. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission focused on overnight liquidity and effects on the derivatives markets in Chicago, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency discussed foreclosure relief to homeowners affected by the storm.

"This was a great example of how this organization can work," Miller said. "We have a natural disaster hitting the largest financial center and you're not going through your rolodex to figure out who to call. It's already built, it's already in place."

Miller said the council's work has also been a priority for Geithner.

"This secretary has been very interested in building the institution, getting the machinery working, getting people regularly together and involved," she said.

Still, some observers are skeptical that the FSOC, which following Dodd-Frank's enactment seemed agonizingly slow at getting off the ground, is doing its job as a systemic regulator and eliminating the perception that some banks are too big to fail.

"You don't hear a lot of chatter about what FSOC is doing that would give anybody more confidence that we are less systemically at risk than we were before," said Cornelius Hurley, director of the Boston University Center for Finance, Law & Policy. "Dodd-Frank says the FSOC should be eliminating this perception. If you take a macro view of the whole situation there's an even greater perception that the system is at risk of a half-dozen institutions failing one at a time. By that yard stick you would have to give them a low grade."

A key factor in what guides the FSOC's future work is who will succeed Geithner, who is widely expected to step down early in 2013.

"A large part of it will depend on the new Treasury secretary and what type of agenda or perspective that person brings," said Kini. "It probably will be also reactive to the crises that emerge. One of the questions will be to what extent the FSOC is going to be largely reactive or will it be a more proactive body. That remains to be seen. It's not clear what exactly they have in store for 2013."

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Money market funds were the victims of the sub-prime lending debacle and ensuing financial crisis, not the pepetrators. The only differnce between that crisis and the next is that the US Treasury backing of the excessive debt won't be implicit the next time. The fact that Treasury runs the FSOC shouldn't lull us into a false sense of security.
Posted by kvillani | Monday, January 07 2013 at 3:42PM ET
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