Economics of Contempt: On the Leaked Volcker Rule
Posted by Economics of Contempt at 5:16 AM
The American Banker leaked part of a draft of the regulators’ proposed Volcker Rule (pdf) last week, which has caused quite a stir. The first thing to note is that the American Banker did not leak the most important part: the text of the proposed rule. Instead, they leaked the “Supplementary Information” (which I call just the “Supplement”), the core of which is a lengthy, section-by-section analysis of the proposed rule. In addition, the leaked portion does not include the Appendices to the proposed rule, which, from reading the Supplement, appear to be very important — Appendix B, for example, contains a “detailed commentary regarding how the Agencies propose to identify permitted market making-related activities,” which is a core issue.
First I’ll give some general thoughts on the proposed Volcker Rule, and then, because I’m such a generous guy, I’ll go ahead and highlight some of the most important pressure points in the proposed rule.
General Thoughts on the Proposed Volcker Rule
In general, the proposed Volcker Rule appears to be very good: it’s a serious effort by a group of smart, market-savvy people to draw a workable distinction between market-making and proprietary trading. The regulators recognize the importance of both market-making and hedging, but they also recognize (most of) the places where market-making and hedging can bleed into proprietary trading. And in those situations, the regulators realize that any effort to distinguish impermissible prop trading from permissible market-making or hedging will — quite appropriately — require a very fact-intensive inquiry. That said, I’m still going to have to withhold my final judgment until I see the actual text of the proposed rule.
Also, even though the WSJ keeps trying to gin up controversy over the proposed Volcker Rule allowing hedging on a portfolio basis, the regulators note in the Supplement that allowing hedging on a portfolio basis is “consistent with the statutory reference to mitigating risks of individual or aggregated positions” (emphasis in original). I explained this a couple of weeks ago; it is a faux-controversy. Moreover, prohibiting banks from hedging on a portfolio basis is a monumentally stupid idea in the first place — it would make risk managers’ jobs 100 times harder, introduce all sorts of new risks into banks’ books (counterparty risk would skyrocket), and dramatically raise hedging costs. This is one thing that the statutory text of the Volcker Rule actually got right.