An amazing thing has happened to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission since President-elect Barack Obama came to town: It has actually started to matter. Its newfound relevance is derived mostly from Gary Gensler, the man appointed by the new president to lead it.
Mr. Gensler, who spent four years at the Treasury department and nine as a partner at Goldman Sachs, has generated a buzz that could lift his new agency out of oblivion. His authority and influence stretch beyond the question of commodities, though the financial products whose origins lie in wheat and grain futures are growing more important all the time.
A New York Times editorial today called on Mr. Gensler to take a firmer stand on regulating derivatives, and criticized his past efforts to exempt some products from oversight. "Where does Mr. Gensler stand? How do his close ties to Wall Street affect his choices, his sense of what is right and what is needed?" the Times asked. "Those are among the questions that senators have to ask him at his confirmation hearing."
Mr. Gensler has also been named as a possible leader in the reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Federal Financial Analytics, a D.C.-based consulting firm, told clients in a note last month that Mr. Gensler´s presence on the President´s Working Group for Financial Markets would ensure his input in the question of what to do with the government-sponsored enterprises. "Clients will recall him as Summers´ sacrificial lamb," the note read, "sent out in 2000 to testify on far-reaching GSE reform after Fannie botched the Summers team´s first Treasury quarterly refunding."
Bloomberg last month pointed out that Mr. Gensler was Sen. Hillary Clinton´s economic advisor during her presidential bid and Reuters added that he had advised Sen. Paul Sarbanes on the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Mr. Gensler seems to have been at the center of many of the hot issues of the last ten years.
Though the CFTC has a reputation for being a sleepy regulator, observers of the reg restructuring circus might want to pay attention when Mr. Gensler steps into the ring. Judging from his background and the buzz his nomination created, he could actually make the CFTC scene interesting.