Bair's Palin Moment

Sheila Bair is concerned about title transfers. She worries about a bond market bubble. She thinks farmland, which has been a bright spot for lenders, is probably at or near peak prices. So how is it that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chairman also considers herself an optimist?

Interviewer Charlie Rose, who conducted a Q-and-A session with Bair this week at the annual meeting of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, felt compelled to ask that very question, ushering in what might be described as a Sarah Palin moment — or at least an obvious break from the pointed, mile-a-minute answers Bair had provided up until that moment.

"Well, you know," she stammered, pausing to search for the right words. "It's America!" The New York crowd laughed sympathetically, giving Bair an extra beat to compose her thoughts.

And then she explained, "So I'm going to be an optimist about the message of these last elections … that there is going to be a directive" that results in the country facing up to its fiscal challenges.

But the optimism was tempered: "Unless we have a plan in the medium term," Bair said, "unless we do that, we've got a real problem on our hands."

All in the Numbers

It's one thing to hear bankers gripe about the parts of the Dodd-Frank Act that they think were based on political expediency rather than sound economic reasoning; it's another to hear it from Chris Dodd himself.

The outgoing Senate Banking Committee chairman candidly described this week how his landmark reform bill arrived at the particulars of the Volcker Rule, which limits a bank's investment in a hedge fund to 3% of the fund and 3% of the bank's Tier 1 capital.

"I'd love to tell you it was [based on] deep discussion," Dodd said in an address at the same Sifma conference where Bair spoke. But what was the real reason? "I could get 60 votes at 3%."

Anything more, and the opponents of the Volcker Rule would have held up the bill. Anything less, and advocates for stringent caps would have balked.

But Dodd doesn't expect Congress to be in the mood to compromise on another sticking point in reform: the leadership of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Though he praised Elizabeth Warren for the work she has done so far to get the bureau up and running, he isn't pushing anyone in the Obama administration to nominate her to lead the CFPB longer-term.

"You've got to be confirmable," he said. And sometimes, he said, that means "putting aside whether you're qualified or not."

Buying Low?

You say mortgage documentation issues. I say buying opportunity.

On Wednesday, two Bank of America Corp. directors bought almost $900,000 of their own company's stock. First reported by Rick Rothacker of The Charlotte Observer, chairman Chad Holliday bought 30,000 shares at around $12.60, and board colleague Robert Scully bought 39,500 shares at $12.45.

Bank of America stock has fallen 18% since the beginning of the year, but the two board members, who joined the company in the aftermath of the financial crisis, appear to like its current price.

In both cases, the men more than doubled their respective holdings in B of A's stock, filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission show.

Huntington's Hires

Huntington Bancshares Inc. wants to do more planes, trains and automobile lending.

To that end, the Columbus, Ohio, company just made three hires for a new specialty asset division and plans to recruit even more people for its rapidly expanding auto dealer finance unit.

In specialty assets: Richard Barret, a former asset-finance banker with Royal Bank of Scotland, has been named head of business aircraft financing; Kip Curran now runs rail finance; he previously handled that type of lending with LaSalle National Leasing Corp. and Maxus Leasing Group; and Michael Labrum heads lender finance. He most recently led PNC Financial Services Group Inc.'s lender finance group.

Separately, Huntington said it plans to hire 13 sales and underwriting people over the next six months as part of its auto dealer group's push into New England.

Huntington plans to offer financing services at 500 dealers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

Right now it handles auto finance just in the Midwest.

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