Fed’s Powell says U.S. bank capital is 'about right'

Register now

WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Gov. Jerome Powell said Tuesday that capital levels at U.S. banks are about where they should be but some changes to the capital rules may be in order to make compliance easier.

Powell said that the Fed and other U.S. regulators' calibration of risk-based capital standards is roughly appropriate to safeguard against the risks posed by banks’ portfolios.

“My view is that U.S. capital standards are about right right now,” Powell said at an event held by George Washington University Law School and Reuters. “Risk-based capital is about where it needs to be — I don’t see it as clearly too high or too low.”

But he added that the Fed may have gone too far when it “gold-plated” the Basel III-mandated supplementary leverage ratio for global systemically important banks, or G-SIBs. That rule may have inadvertently acted as a binding constraint on some of the largest U.S. banks rather than as a backstop, which was its intended purpose, he said.

“I was concerned when we did that that there would be unintended consequences, and I would say that’s something we’re revisiting,” Powell said. “My view at the Fed is that we don’t want the leverage ratio to be binding. We want the risk-based capital standards to be binding so the activities are calibrated and risk-sensitive.”

Powell, who chairs the Fed’s Supervisory Committee and was reportedly interviewed by President Trump as a potential successor to Janet Yellen as Fed chair, declined to comment on whether he was pushing for that job or whether he would accept it if nominated.

“I’ve got nothing for you today on that,” he said.

But he was more open in laying out the Fed’s supervisory policies, some of which he had staked out soon after assuming his role as chair of the central bank's Supervisory Committee following former Gov. Daniel Tarullo's departure in April.

He reiterated the Fed’s commitments to international regulatory standards and forums, and said he hoped that the final rules laid out in Basel III — which are sometimes referred to as Basel IV but that Powell called the “Basel III endgame” — would be completed “by the end of the year.”

He also said he was confident that the Fed and the other regulatory agencies involved in promulgating the Volcker Rule could develop a workable alternative to the rule, which has dogged banks and regulators since its introduction in 2013.

Acting Comptroller of the Currency Keith Noreika has made preliminary moves to make changes to his agency’s implementation of the rule; other agencies have similarly said the rule, which bars banks from trading on their own accounts, needs improvement.

“I think we are going to be able to get to a five-agency rule on Volcker that is significantly less burdensome, that is faithful to the intent of Congress, but I’m not going to tell you that it will be quick or easy,” Powell said. “The important thing is to get it right, and I’m confident we can do that.”

Powell also praised the Financial Stability Oversight Council’s decision last week to remove American International Group's designation as a "systemically important financial institution." He said AIG had “contributed so negatively” to the financial crisis with its excessive risk-taking, but he added that the firm has made significant changes since then to reduce its systemic risk, and dedesignating the firm increases the credibility of the FSOC's designation power.

“I strongly support the dedesignation of AIG. It’s a very different company now,” Powell said. “We need the ability to designate nonbank financial companies, and I think this actually increases the credibility.”

Powell also touched on cybersecurity issues, including the recent data breach at Equifax. Powell said that, while the Fed has no direct regulatory authority over credit bureaus, it does have a concern about the kinds of bank fraud that can be perpetrated with stolen personal identity information. The Fed evaluates banks’ operational risks for cybersecurity threats and preparedness, he said.

“From our standpoint, it’s obviously a terrible breach,” Powell said. “It does raise the risk for consumer fraud, so we’ll be focusing on that. We’ll be trying to learn the lessons from Equifax in terms of third-party providers, but ... there will be a wide search for broader answers on Equifax that doesn’t involve us.”

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
SIFIs Minimum capital requirements Risk-based capital rule Basel Cyber security Jerome Powell Janet Yellen Federal Reserve Equifax FSOC AIG