WASHINGTON - A group of bipartisan senators are urging Treasury Secretary Jack Lew not to rely on a recent study as basis for labeling asset management firms as systemically risky.
On Thursday, Sens. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Thomas Carper, D-Del., Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., sent a letter to Lew claiming that an October report by the Office of Financial Research about possible financial risks in the asset management industry contained a number of "troubling errors."
"These mischaracterizations and data inaccuracies raise serious concerns not only about the legitimacy of this study, but also whether OFR is capable of fulfilling its mission to provide independent and sophisticated analytical support to the [Financial Stability Oversight Council] and the member agencies," the senators wrote.
The OFR report could have significant implications for regulatory treatment of asset management firms. Under the Dodd-Frank Act, the research office assists FSOC in the council's determinations of whether certain nonbanks are "systemically important." If designated as systemic, those companies would have to face a new Federal Reserve Board supervisory regime.
Questions about the asset management report are likely to come up when Richard Berner, director of the OFR, appears before the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday to testify about the office's annual update to Congress.
A Treasury spokesman said the letter from the senators had not yet been received by Lew.
Fidelity Investments, BlackRock Inc. and PIMCO have been fighting efforts by regulators to consider labeling asset management firms as systemically important. The industry has sought to discount the credibility of the OFR's report repeatedly, arguing that the findings provided an incomplete and inaccurate view of the industry.
In their letter, the five senators pointed to three errors in the report as cause for their concern, including the overstatement of assets of an unnamed firm by roughly $200 billion. The letter also claimed the OFR overstated the redemption pressure on bond mutual funds during 2008 and understated mutual funds' assets by more than $1 trillion.
Additionally, they wrote that the OFR study included "numerous mischaracterizations about the asset management industry and its practices."
In the report, the OFR specified it had consulted with member agencies of the FSOC and market participants and provided sourcing for its data, according to the Treasury spokesman.
The council, which is overseen by Lew, requested the asset management report by the OFR in April 2012 to examine whether such firms could "transmit or amplify" risk across the financial system. The Securities and Exchange Commission, which regulates such firms, later invited the industry to weigh in on the October report.
Regulators have been concerned that firms in a low interest rate environment may try to seek higher returns by buying up riskier assets or that asset managers would simultaneously crowd into similar types of assets or even the same assets.
The senators echoed industry arguments that it would be premature for the FSOC to make any significant policy move related to asset management firms without further guidance from the Fed about the new regime for nonbanks.
"The FSOC cannot currently have such an understanding because the Federal Reserve has not finalized the regulations that would apply if a nonbank were designated," they wrote.
The senators urged the council to closely review and weigh the public comments filed in response to the report before making any determinations.
"While we support OFR's examination of various industries to assess what, if any threats to financial stability exist we strongly urge the FSOC and other governing bodies to not base any policy or regulation actions grounded on the information in the OFR study," they wrote.