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Open-door policy: China said it will allow foreign companies to hold majority stakes in its financial companies, including commercial banks. The relaxation of the rules, announced shortly after President Trump ended his trip to China, “potentially paves the way for Wall Street investment banks to increase their presence in China’s hard-to-crack domestic market,” the Wall Street Journal says. Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, New York Times
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Paying the piper: In its first earnings report since it disclosed a massive data breach, Equifax said its third quarter profit dropped 27% compared to the year-earlier period while revenue rose 4%. It also identified more than $100 million in costs related to the hack and warned there may be more to come.
In addition, the company said more than 240 class-action suits have been filed against it and that 50 state attorneys general are investigating it or have requested documents. It also said it has received subpoenas from the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta regarding “trading activities by certain of our employees in relation to the cybersecurity incident.” Wall Street Journal, Financial Times here and here, New York Times, Washington Post
Begging to differ: The tax bill unveiled by Senate Republicans Thursday includes several differences from the one the House Ways and Means Committee approved. The Senate bill would delay cutting the corporate tax rate to 20% until 2019, versus immediately. It would also keep the deduction for home mortgage interest at $1 million, while the House bill would cap it at $500,000. Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, New York Times, Washington Post, American Banker here and here
Bitcoin beware: Two senior Trump administration officials fired off some warning shots at the bitcoin market. In an interview with Yahoo Finance, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said bitcoin is “something we are looking at very carefully and will continue to look at. The first issue and the most important issue is to make sure that people can’t use bitcoin for illicit activities. Our number one issue is, we want to make sure that this is not used for illicit transfers of funds.”
On Wednesday, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton hinted his agency “will take a more aggressive stance” in regulating initial coin offerings, the Wall Street Journal reports. “I have yet to see an ICO that doesn’t have a sufficient number of hallmarks of a security,” Clayton said “in an unscripted remark” during a speech at the Institute on Securities Regulation in New York.
“Mr. Clayton’s remarks suggest firms using the coin offerings to raise cash in the U.S. may need to register the deals with the SEC and provide investors with extensive disclosure documents,” the Journal reports.
Further, it asks: Is bitcoin “the world’s most dramatic bubble?”
Wall Street Journal
Retreat: Social Finance said it is “pulling back” on its plans to expand outside the U.S. and to get into asset management following a workplace scandal and the resignation of CEO Mike Cagney and other senior executives. Indeed, the company said two more executives are leaving the student loan lender, including the one who led asset management and the head of its banking operation. The company last month said it was dropping its bid to get a bank charter.
Who needs them?: Several banks are restructuring in order to reduce costs and avoid an additional layer of regulatory oversight, the paper reports. For example, Bank of the Ozarks, which is regulated by the FDIC, got rid of its holding-company structure, which requires regulation by the Federal Reserve. “We didn’t really need to be regulated by both,” said George Gleason, the bank’s CEO.
“This is taking regulatory relief into their own hands,” a banking lawyer told the paper. “It is also a way for banks to sidestep things like Fed-administered stress tests,” the paper notes.
New York Times
Looking into it: New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has subpoenaed TIAA, seeking documents and information about its sales practices, the paper reports. The insurance and investment management firm is also the subject of a whistle-blower complaint filed with the SEC by former employees who say they were pressured to sell products that benefited the firm, not customers, the paper says.
“Banks should be able to structure themselves in whatever way they want.” — Keith Noreika, acting Comptroller of the Currency, commenting on changes banks are making to reduce regulatory oversight.