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MetLife Aftermath: The government failed to show how MetLife would cause significant damage to the economy if it failed, according to a U.S. District judge’s ruling last week that was unsealed Thursday. In explaining her ruling, Judge Rosemary Collyer said the government didn’t consider the cost of the designation to MetLife, which was required to build a larger financial cushion and implement other safeguards to protect taxpayers in the event of another financial meltdown. MetLife, Prudential, General Electric and AIG are the four nonbank firms deemed “systemically important.” Already, GE has posited that it no longer qualifies for the designation because it has shrunk its balance sheet, as required by Dodd-Frank.

Critics said the decision “dangerously ignores the lessons of the financial crisis,” and could have major implication for Dodd-Frank. The Post writes: “If the ruling is not overturned — the Justice Department is expected to appeal — it could cripple the panel, known as the Financial Stability Oversight Council, put in place to run the process, according to financial industry policy experts. If FSOC must meet new, higher standards for declaring a company ‘too big to fail,’ the system would come to a standstill, they said.” American Banker, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Financial Times

Chiefs Present and Past: Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and three of her predecessors — Ben Bernanke, Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan — Thursday tried to dispel concerns the nation is once again heading for a recession. Yellen said this is “not a bubble economy,” and Bernanke noted he didn’t see any particular reason that “a recession is any more likely” in 2016 than in previous years. About the prospect of raising interest rates again, as the central bank did for the first time in seven years in December, Yellen said, “we think a gradual path of rate increases will be appropriate and stand ready to adjust what we do based on how our views of the economy evolve.”

Yellen addressed topics such as reductions in the jobless rate, weak inflation, the drag of the dollar on the economy, price pressures, boosts in borrowing costs, and “too-big-to-fail” policies. Yellen, addressing a question regarding the December rate hike, said, “I certainly don’t regard it as a mistake.”

The four Fed chiefs, who collectively spent 37 years at the helm of the central bank and were together publicly for the first time since 2013, all agreed that fiscal policy must play a bigger role in promoting economic growth. “It’s fundamentally a fiscal problem,” Greenspan said. While Bernanke and Yellen agreed Congress should increase spending to stimulate growth, Greenspan countered that the economy’s main obstacle is low productivity growth. Volcker noted: “I agree with everybody!”

Wall Street Journal

Thanks to a fine-print footnote in a document titled "Regulatory Capital Rules," issued in 2013, banks find they can hold less capital against shorter-term derivatives. Banks now propose to structure deals, such as a 10-year swap to hedge oil and interest rates, as a series of swaps that instead settle every day for 10 years. This has a significant impact on the capital banks have to set aside: a cleared 10-year interest-rate swap ties up three times as much equity as a one-day contract, the paper writes. “They are trying to get around a leverage constraint,” Thomas Hoenig, vice chairman of Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., told the Journal.

Credit Suisse and other European banks are already using the structure, and some big U.S banks are preparing to follow "if they get a positive signal from regulators," the paper says, but the initial signs suggest this won't be the case. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, said the practice “raises serious safety and soundness concerns” and it “does not support actions that weaken bank capital in ways that could affect a regulated institution’s ability to withstand market disruptions or economic downturns.” The agency will look at the impact on bank capital before deciding if there needs to be "supervisory response."

New York Times

A Chicago-based program launched last year encourages startup companies to help address the problems of people without bank accounts. Among the challenges the unbanked face are high costs to cash personal checks and send cash to relatives, services that are otherwise free for those with bank accounts. The nonprofit program, called Financial Solutions Lab, provides information for startups to help assist the unbanked. One goal is to develop financial technologies that provide cheaper, faster ways to perform basic financial services. Financial Solutions Lab partners with JPMorgan Chase’s philanthropic foundation that provided $30 million for the program.

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