by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Remember when the financial crisis prompted lawmakers on Capitol Hill to promise to “do something”? Jim McTague of Barron’s does. He offers an update on the new regulatory “crackdown” in his latest “D.C. Current” column.
The Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday adopted two related rules aimed at preventing a repeat of the 2008 financial-market collapse, four years after being instructed to do so by Congress within the 849 pages of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The snail’s pace reflects the SEC’s penchant for carefully crafting regulations acceptable to both the wolves of Wall Street and the trusting sheep of Main Street. Leaving the wolves some teeth supposedly makes the ecosystem better for everyone when, in fact, it’s the SEC that could benefit from some fangs.
The rules will become effective in the not-too-distant future.
The first rule demands more detailed disclosures of credit quality from the issuers of mortgage, car-loan, and other asset-backed securities, the instruments at the center of the financial markets’ colossal collapse. The intent is to reduce investor reliance on the credit-rating agencies, such as Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s (ticker: MCO), that in the view of many investors contributed mightily to the disaster through shoddy workmanship.
The second rule is aimed at eliminating the conflicts of interest within the credit-rating agencies that led them to rate risky asset-backed securities as high-quality credits and, in turn, enabled issuers to sell even more of these polecats to unsuspecting investors expecting prime beef. …
… The SEC believes that transparency will attract burned investors back to the asset-backed securities markets, boosting the housing, auto, and equipment-leasing industries. The agency could have been tougher, but Wall Street whined about higher compliance costs. The new regulation applies only to registered securities, not private placements. And it doesn’t cover some important asset classes, such as student and inventory loans, according to Americans for Financial Reform, a Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit group.
THE SECOND RULE is aimed at preventing a credit-rating firm’s analysts from being influenced by management’s pursuit of profits. Of course, the most direct way to ensure this would be for investors to pay for the ratings. Perish the thought that the SEC should try to upend the status quo.