The FDIC and Federal Reserve both unanimously approved the long-debated Volcker Rule today, and three other regulatory agencies plan to before the day is out, making it official. The rule, named for and originally proposed by Paul Volcker, aims to ban proprietary trading, "or in plain English," as the Washington Post puts it, "it removes the parts of banks that gamble and act like hedge funds, because those parts can blow up." Or at least, that's what it was supposed to do.
But big banks like JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs have been lobbying against the law for more than three years, Bloomberg points out, and their "lobbying efforts paid off" in easing some provisions. On the other hand, recent weeks have seen a charge from regulators favoring a tougher version, and they've scored points, too, the New York Times reports. Here's what each side won:
The Tough Side:
- When JPMorgan lost $6 billion on the London Whale trade, it said the position was a "hedge." The rule still allows hedging, but banks will now have to name a specific, quantifiable risk that each such trade is hedging against.
- Bonuses and compensation must be structured in a manner that doesn't encourage "prohibited proprietary trading."
- Chief executives will have to personally "attest" every year that the bank has measures in place to comply with the rule.
The Not-So-Tough Side:
- Banks have until July of 2015 to implement the rule, though they must make a "good faith effort" to do so before that.
- Banks are still allowed to "make markets," meaning to act as middle men for clients who want to buy and sell stock. Under this guise, banks could buy and hold a stock, arguing that a client might someday want to buy it. The rule mandates that banks buy only enough to meet the "reasonably expected near-term demands of clients," but leaves it up to banks to decide what's reasonable.
- Banks can still make proprietary trades in bonds issued by governments.
- Many banks tell the Wall Street Journal that they think they're already in compliance with the law, while some business groups say they intend to challenge the rule in court. Reform advocates, meanwhile, are starting to call again for a return to Glass-Steagall.