WASHINGTON – With Donald Trump's unexpected presidential victory, Wall Street critics are pessimistic about the future of financial regulation in a unified Republican Washington.
"The reality of financial regulation is going to be nothing," said Simon Johnson, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Business and noted critic of the excesses of the financial sector. "This is de-regulation. Complete and utter de-regulation. It's all over but the shouting."
The financial services sector has proved to be unusually high on Trump's agenda already. While he barely mentioned the Dodd-Frank Act during the campaign, he listed financial deregulation as one of his top priorities in an interview Friday with The Wall Street Journal.
His specific plans are not yet clear.
"So little was said about financial policy during the campaign on either side that it is something quite difficult to predict exactly what financial priorities he might have," said Arthur Wilmarth, professor of law at George Washington University.
Early indications suggest that Trump's vision for financial regulation, such as it is, has been borrowed for the time being from his Republican colleagues in Congress.
His transition team Thursday issued a statement about its approach to financial regulation that laments stagnant wages, financial fraud and the growth of large banks and the plight of community banks. But it appears to blame those conditions on Dodd-Frank, and vows "to dismantle the Dodd-Frank Act and replace it with new policies to encourage economic growth and job creation."
Wall Street is also well represented on Trump's transition team. Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker and film producer, is widely viewed as a potential pick for Treasury secretary. Bill Walton, former CEO of Allied Capital (and also a film producer), is heading Trump's economic transition team, as is former Bear Stearns chief economist David Malpass.
Marcus Stanley, head of regulatory affairs at Americans for Financial Reform, said coalition groups are going to keep their powder dry for the moment, and they expect that the first targets for reform will be the authorities vested in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Financial Stability Oversight Council – organizations created by Dodd-Frank whose existence Republicans have never fully accepted.
But those agencies and the various rules that Republicans have criticized were also put in place for a reason, Stanley said, and the real question is whether Dodd-Frank will be replaced or just torn down. If Republicans create a regulatory vacuum or simply allow the banks to write their own rules, he said, they will have gone too far.
"It's obvious that Dodd-Frank is going to come under severe attack both in Congress and the regulatory agencies," Stanley said. "If you guys want to go after Dodd-Frank, the first question is going to be, 'What do you plan to do to actually address these Wall Street abuses?' If the answer is, 'We're not going to do anything' … then that is something we are going to fight really hard on."
Some will also look to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who warned Trump last week that she's prepared to battle him on big-bank deregulation.
"If Trump and the Republican Party try to turn loose the big banks and financial institutions so they can once again gamble with our economy and bring it all crashing down, then we will fight them every step of the way," she said.
But Johnson is clearer about what Wall Street hawks can do in the near term to stop Republicans from rolling back post-crisis reforms.
"Nothing," Johnson said. "Perhaps after the next crisis there's an opportunity to do things better."
Lalita Clozel and Iris Ouyang contributed to this report.