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Financial Services Update – July 22, 2011

Debt Limit Negotiations Continue

On Tuesday, the House passed its “Cut, Cap and Balance” legislation which would cut government spending now, cap it in the future and approve a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget. On Friday, the Senate voted to table a motion to consider the measure. However, after another tense week of negotiations between the Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats, House Republicans, House Democrats, and the President Obama, the outline of a purported deal seemed to emerge late Thursday. Congressional Democrats reported that President Obama discussed with them a deal he had reached with Speaker John Boehner to raise the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion, enough to get through the 2012 elections, with at least as much in immediate spending cuts and a promise of  “tax reform”  in 2012. On Friday, in response to the news of a “deal,” Speaker Boehner told the House Republican Conference there was “no deal,”  but that he will continue to negotiate with the White House over the weekend. The most important questions remaining are how many House Republicans will vote for a deal that does not include immediate tax increases but does include the promise of broader “tax reform” next year and how many House Democrats will vote for a deal with no tax increases.

Greece Gets Another Bailout

On Thursday, European finance ministers agreed to a new $157 billion financial aid package for Greece in exchange for forcing Greece’s bond holders to accept a bond exchange that gives them less than originally promised. The new plan for Greece will provide for the euro zone’s bailout fund and the International Monetary Fund to lend Greece $157 billion over the next three years at 3.5% interest. Private creditors who hold Greek debt that matures in the coming years will “voluntarily” turn in their bonds and accept new ones that mature far in the future.

The EU also agreed Thursday to an expansion of its bailout fund. That vehicle, once restricted to lending to countries near the brink of collapse, will now be able to buy euro-zone bonds on secondary markets to move prices and lend directly to countries even before they lose access to private funding and could even include lending to finance bank recapitalizations. The leaders also agreed to cut the once-lofty interest rates that the bailout fund charges and extend to as much as 30 years the maturities of the loans it provides. Ireland and Portugal, both currently receiving European aid, will get breaks on their interest rates to 3.5%. Ireland was paying around 6% on the EU portion of its euro 67.5 billion bailout.

Treasury Sells Off Remaining Stake of Chrysler

On Thursday, the Treasury Department sold its remaining stake in Chrysler losing a total of $1.3 billion. Italian automaker Fiat purchased the U.S. government’s remaining 6% stake in Chrysler for $560 million, formally concluding the $12.5-billion bailout.

Suit Against Goldman Dismissed

On Thursday, former Australian hedge fund Basis Yield Alpha’s legal challenge to Goldman Sachs’ infamous Timberwolf 2007-1 collateralized debt obligation was dismissed by Judge Barbara Jones of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Jones cited a Supreme Court decision that held that U.S. securities-fraud laws apply only to domestic transactions.

Senate Banking Hearing on One Year Anniversary of Dodd-Frank

On Thursday, in a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee, federal banking regulators testified on the implementation of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. Regulators said they are moving fast enough to give markets certainty, but slow enough to get hundreds of new rules right. A handful of regulatory agencies are writing hundreds of new rules to police the swaps market, reduce risk at the biggest financial firms, and bring the so-called shadow banking system — which includes hedge funds and non-traditional lenders — into the traditional regulatory framework. The SEC and CFTC have struggled to keep pace with the swift rule-writing timeline laid out in Dodd-Frank, and are months behind schedule on many key rules. However, in a surprising move, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said federal bank regulators may rethink their crackdown on derivatives if a global agreement cannot be reached on margin requirements thereby acknowledging that U.S. banks would be at a significant competitive disadvantage if their foreign rivals do not have to demand margin, or collateral, for derivatives trades.

More Information:

If you have any questions regarding any of these issues, please contact:

Matt Jessee, Policy Advisor
matt.jessee@bryancave.com
1 314 259 2463

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Financial Services Update – July 15, 2011

Debt Limit Negotiations Continue

After a week of tense negotiations between President Obama and Congressional leaders over the debt-limit increase, lawmakers now have less than three weeks to reach a deal before August 2, when the Obama administration says the U.S. could risk defaulting on its loans without an increase in the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. All parties involved say that a significant deficit reduction plan should be part of the plan to raise the debt ceiling, but Democrats want to balance the budget by raising tax revenues in addition to making spending cuts — and the GOP remains firmly opposed to any tax increases.  However, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have proposed a contingency plan that would give President Obama authority to raise the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion through the end of 2012 but require the President to submit spending cuts totaling $2.5 trillion to Congress in three tranches every four months. The McConnell-Reid plan would not come with tax increases or Medicare savings but does include an extension of unemployment insurance that would be offset by spending cuts.

Next week, the House will vote on the Republican “cut, cap and balance” proposal which would make raising the debt ceiling contingent on Congress sending a balanced budget amendment to the states. It would also limit government spending to under 20 percent of Gross Domestic Product over the next 10 years. While the legislation is expected to overwhelmingly pass the House, it is unlikely to become law because Senate Democratic leaders have said they will not vote on the legislation.

White House Likely To Submit South Korea Trade Bill Soon

On Friday, White House Chief of Staff William Daley said the Obama administration may send Congress a bill for a South Korea free-trade agreement that includes Trade Adjustment Assistance “very soon.”   The Senate Finance Committee passed a symbolic draft of the South Korea trade legislation that includes Trade Adjustment Assistance last week. However, the House Ways and Means Committee passed a South Korea bill without the aid attached. The hearings were “mock markups” that let lawmakers give the President their views on the free-trade deals before he submits them formally under fast-track rules that prohibit amendments and provide for a yes-or-no vote.

IRS Issues Delay on Offshore Bank Reporting Rules

On Thursday, the Internal Revenue Service issued a notice of delay in rulemaking for regulations stemming from the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act which Congress adopted last year. The notice did not address many of the Act’s central policy questions, including the requirement to withhold 30 percent from payments that might have indirectly originated in the U.S. The new timeline gives offshore banks until June 30, 2013, to enter into an agreement with the IRS that would shield them from some withholding requirements. Institutions will not have to report on their efforts to track down their U.S. clients until 2014. Banks will not be required to make 30 percent withholdings on non-compliant U.S. customers until Jan. 1, 2014. Other withholdings on gross proceeds and income that might be indirectly sourced to the U.S. will not start until Jan. 1, 2015. All of the requirements were initially slated to take effect at the beginning of 2013. In April, the IRS responded to initial concerns with guidance that said the agency will focus on citizens with more than $500,000 in offshore bank accounts and those with private banking relationships at overseas institutions.

Bernanke Delivers Monetary Policy Report to Congress

On Wednesday and Thursday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke delivered the Fed’s semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee, respectively. Bernanke said the nation faces at least two crises, the fiscal budgetary crisis that Congress is trying to tackle and the unemployment crisis. He said the Federal Reserve’s planned purchase of $600 billion in longer-term Treasury securities that ended in June had the “intended effects of reducing the risk of deflation and shoring up economic activity” by decreasing longer-term Treasury yields and interest rates. Bernanke also addressed questions from Members regarding the troubled housing market and the “continuing weakness” of the labor market. According to Bernanke, almost half of those unemployed have been out of work for more than six months, the highest ratio in the post-World War II period.

 More Information

If you have any questions regarding any of these issues, please contact:

Matt Jessee, Policy Advisor
matt.jessee@bryancave.com
1 314 259 2463

 

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Financial Services Update – June 10, 2011

Goldman Settles Massachusetts Trading Investigation

On Thursday, the Massachusetts Securities Division announced that Goldman Sachs agreed to a consent order to pay $10 million and to ban so-called “trading huddles.”  The Massachusetts Securities Division had been investigating Goldman for the past two years to determine whether the trading ideas that analysts had shared with traders during these huddles “favored the interests of certain priority clients.”  Goldman settled the matter without admitting or denying the state regulator’s allegations and agreed to disclose to future research clients that they would not all be treated equally.  In its consent order, the Massachusetts regulator said it found no instances of fraud.

Senate Defeats Bill to Delay Interchange Fee Caps

On Wednesday, after a long and divisive lobbying fight, retailers defeated the banking industry in the Senate on a vote to delay new caps on debit-card swipe fees.  The legislation was offered by Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and failed on a 54-45 vote, falling just six votes shy of the 60 needed for passage and clearing the way for a provision in last year’s Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law to take effect July 21.  The provision, often referred to as the “Durbin Interchange Amendment,” required the Federal Reserve to establish fair and reasonable interchange fees for many debit and prepaid card transactions.  Last fall, the Federal Reserve proposed new rules which (among other things) would limit to 12 cents per transaction the fee that large banks (with more than $10 billion in assets) can charge merchants every time a consumer uses a debit card or a prepaid gift card.  These proposed rules garnered significant criticism and final rules, which are now overdue from the Federal Reserve, are expected shortly.  Senators Tester and Corker initially proposed legislation to delay the Durbin amendment from taking effect for 24 months. The final version of the Tester-Corker bill cut the delay in half to 12 months and called for a six-month study of the costs associated with debit transactions and their impact on consumers and community banks.

Bernanke Signals End to Fed’s Monetary Stimulus

On Tuesday, in a speech at the International Monetary Conference in Atlanta, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke signaled that the central bank plans to end its “quantitative easing” program on schedule this month.  Bernanke’s announcement comes seven months after the central bank began a historic round of monetary stimulus.  In his speech, Bernanke acknowledged the recovery has fallen short of the central bank’s expectations because of the high unemployment rate and falling home prices.

Goolsbee Leaving Council of Economic Advisors

On Monday, Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, announced that he plans to leave the White House and return to teaching economics at the University of Chicago this fall.  Goolsbee has been on leave for four years from the University’s Booth School of Business where he was a professor for 14 years before joining the Administration.

Diamond Withdraws Fed Nomination

On Sunday, MIT professor Peter A. Diamond announced he was withdrawing his nomination to the Federal Reserve Board from consideration before the Senate.  Diamond’s nomination had been blocked by Senate Republicans for over a year because of Senate Banking Committee Ranking Member Richard Shelby’s (R-AL) contention that Diamond lacked the proper qualifications.  President Obama first nominated Diamond in April 2010.

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Financial Services Update – April 29, 2011

Q1 GDP Slows to 1.8%

On Thursday, the Bureau of Economic Analysis announced that the U.S. GDP growth rate in the first quarter of 2011 slowed to an annual rate of 1.8 percent, compared to a rate of 3.1 percent in fourth quarter 2010 and 3.7 percent in first quarter 2010. The Bureau cited a combination of lower-than-expected economic data, global energy uncertainty, and concerns about the budget deficit as causes of the growth rate decelerating.

Bernanke Announces Rates to Stay at Near Zero, Ends Bond Buying Program

On Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke held his first quarterly press conference in which he said that the economy and job market are improving moderately, but the housing market and other factors such as gas prices continue to be a drag on growth. He announced that the Fed plans to end the $600 billion treasury bond-buying program in June and will leave interest rates at their current levels. The event followed a two-day meeting of the Fed’s policymaking committee at which the central bank indicated continuity in its strategy. The Fed’s bond buying program known as the second round of quantitative easing, or “QE2,” will expire as scheduled at the end of June. The Fed also maintained its near-zero target for short-term interest rates, where it has been since December 2008, and indicated that it expects to keep rates “exceptionally low” for “an extended period.”

Debt Ceiling Vote

The vote to increase the U.S. government’s borrowing ceiling beyond the current limit of $14 trillion has become the hot topic in Congress. While the Treasury Department’s original estimate was that the ceiling would need to be raised by mid-May, the Department is now saying it could hold out till July but would need to take extraordinary measures. While the measure is expected to easily pass the Senate, the question remains whether the House can pass such a bill. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said this week that he will not guarantee a vote on bill to raise the debt limit, much less passage of such a bill, without cuts in discretionary spending and alterations of entitlements such as Medicare and Medicaid. Congress returns next week from its two week recess, and House Republicans plan to hold a series of meetings to gather feedback from their Members about the debt ceiling.

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Financial Services Update – March 25, 2011

Bernanke to Hold Regular Press Briefings

On Thursday, the Federal Reserve announced that Chairman Ben Bernanke will begin holding press briefings four times per year to present the Federal Open Market Committee’s current economic projections. In 2011, the Chairman’s briefings will be held on April 27, June 22 and November 2.

Fed Rejects Bank of America Dividend Increase

On Wednesday, Bank of America announced that the Federal Reserve had vetoed its plans for a dividend increase in the second half of 2011. Bank of America did not disclose the central bank’s reason for rejecting the dividend proposal, and the Fed declined to comment on how individual institutions fared in its latest round of examinations. The Bank said it had originally submitted its dividend proposal to the Fed in January, and it now intends to submit a revamped dividend proposal at a later date.

Treasury Department Opposes Tax Repatriation Holiday

On Wednesday, Michael Mundaca, the Assistant Treasury Secretary for Tax Policy, announced that he opposed proposals to give corporations a tax holiday on their overseas profits. Mundaca pointed to an earlier assessment from the Joint Committee on Taxation that estimated the tax holiday would cost billions, rather than raise revenue as proponents have argued. He added that a second holiday might even weigh even more heavily on revenue, by encouraging multinationals to shift even more profits overseas. The federal government currently taxes businesses up to 35 percent on overseas earnings. Win America, a coalition of multinational corporations including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Pfizer, argues that a temporary tax holiday would allow businesses to invest an estimated $1 trillion in America, creating jobs in the process.

Treasury Announces Mortgage-Backed Securities Sale

On Monday, the Treasury Department announced that it will begin to sell its portfolio of $142 billion in agency-guaranteed mortgage-backed securities (MBSs) amassed during the financial crisis. Starting this month, the department plans to sell up to $10 billion in MBSs per month subject to market conditions. The sales are expected to generate a profit for taxpayers of $15 billion to $20 billion. The Fed currently holds just under $945 billion of MBSs on its balance sheet.

More Information

If you have any questions regarding any of these issues, please contact:

Matt Jessee, Policy Advisor
matt.jessee@bryancave.com
1 314 259 2463

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Financial Services Update – January 14, 2011

Consumer Products Safety Commission Announces Complaints Database

On Monday, the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) announced that for the first time the Agency will make public thousands of complaints it receives each year about safety problems with consumer products. The database, which was authorized in 2008 consumer product safety legislation, will be launched online in March. Until now, the only way for consumers to access safety complaints has been to file a public records request with the CPSC. The agency was then required by law to consult with the manufacturer before releasing information about their products, and the company could protest or sue to stop disclosure. The database, which is scheduled to be launched March 11, will be available at www.saferproducts.gov.

TARP Inspector General Criticizes Citi Bailout

On Thursday, Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, issued a report saying that Citigroup is still too big to be allowed to fail and could make future bailouts of big banks a necessity. The Treasury Department disputed part of the report’s conclusion in comments included in the report, saying that the Dodd-Frank law “provides the federal government with important tools that it did not have in the fall of 2008, which will be critical in addressing future crises.” The report now goes to the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve, however no specific action is required.

Bernanke Predicts 3% to 4% Economic Expansion

On Thursday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that the U.S. economy should expand at a rate of 3% to 4% in 2011. The Fed’s most recent forecast, released in November, was that the U.S. economy would grow between 3.0% and 3.6% in 2011 after expanding by 2.5% in 2010. Bernanke remarks, which occurred before a small business forum sponsored by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, also included his prediction that the credit crunch is easing and small business should see greater access to capital in 2010. Bernanke appeared along with Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair, Sen. Mark Warner, (D-VA) and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-AL).

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If you have any questions regarding any of these issues, please contact

Matt Jessee, Policy Advisor
matt.jessee@bryancave.com
1 314 259 2463

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Financial Services Update

Financial Services Update

October 16, 2010

Authored by: Matt Jessee

Bernanke Indicates New Fed Actions

Speaking Friday, Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Ben Bernanke indicated the central bank would take new actions to fight the high rate of unemployment.  The Fed’s most likely next move will be to resume large purchases of government debt to lower long-term interest rates but weaken the dollar.  Bernanke argued that by making credit even cheaper it will encourage businesses and consumers to borrow and spend which would eventually lower unemployment.  Bernanke’s comments suggest that the Federal Open Market Committee, which sets monetary policy, is likely to take new steps at its next meeting taking place November 2nd through 3rd.  Bernanke also indicated the Fed intends to keep short-term interest rates at nearly zero for even longer than the markets now expect.

Former Countrywide Executives Agree to Settlement with the SEC

On Friday, in a settlement with the SEC over charges of misleading shareholders, former Countrywide Financial CEO Angelo Mozilo agreed to repay $45 million in ill-gotten profits and $22.5 million in civil penalties, former president David Sambol agree to repay $5 million in ill-gotten profits and $520,000 in civil penalties, and former CFO Eric Sieracki agree to pay $130,000 in civil penalties.  Mozilo and the others were scheduled to face trial on the charges next week.  The civil complaint also accused Mozilo of acting on his inside knowledge of the company’s precarious state when he sold shares between November 2006 and October 2007 ahead of its collapse, reaping more than $139 million.  Under the agreement, the three men did not admit wrongdoing.

Federal Regulators Order Lenders to Correct Foreclosure Errors

In response to recent media reports that lenders may have used fraudulent paperwork or “robosigners” to evict struggling borrowers, on Wednesday, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which was established during the financial crisis to regulate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, released a policy statement telling lenders to make sure that documents used as part of the foreclosure process were properly reviewed and signed.  On Tuesday, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) sent letters to three banks, JP MorganChase, Bank of America and Ally Financial, which have halted foreclosures in 23 states, after evidence surfaced that their employees or outside lawyers signed documents without reading them.  Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) joined Menendez in requesting that Congress’ investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office, examine whether federal regulators overlooked problems at mortgage companies.

More Information

If you have questions regarding any of these issues, please contact:

Matt Jessee, Policy Advisor
matt.jessee@bryancave.com
1 314 259 2463

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Financial Services Update – Issue 17

Financial Regulatory Reform Bill

On Wednesday, the Senate began its formal debate of amendments to the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 with nearly unanimous support for an amendment by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) clarifying that taxpayers would not bear any losses from the liquidation of bankrupt firms. The Senate moved to consider a bipartisan proposal by Senators Dodd (D-CT) and Shelby (R-AL) to strip the bill of a $50 billion fund which would be filled upfront by the financial industry, that would cover the cost of closing down failing firms. Under the Dodd-Shelby deal, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation would liquidate faltering firms by borrowing money from Treasury to cover initial costs. The government would recover the costs by selling off the firm’s assets, with creditors and shareholders incurring losses. Other large banks could be assessed to pay for additional costs as a last resort. Also, creditors of a failing firm would be forced to pay back the government any money they received above what they would have gotten under a bankruptcy proceeding. Any seizure of a large, failing firm would require court approval to ensure that the government not shut down a company inappropriately. In addition, Congress would have to approve the use of federal debt guarantees, and regulators also would be able to ban management and directors of failed firms from working in the financial sector for a minimum of two years.

After voting on the Dodd-Shelby changes, lawmakers quickly approved two amendments put forward by Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), aimed at preserving the ability of small-business owners to use their homes as collateral and lightening regulatory burdens on small banks. The Senate then passed an amendment from Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX.) that instructs the FDIC to set the premiums that banks pay based on an assessment of their overall risk.

After approval of these bipartisan measures, the Senate moved to consider more contentious amendments. Senator Shelby (R-AL) offered an amendment to curb the reach of the new consumer protection agency. The amendment was defeated along party lines. Under the Shelby plan, the FDIC would have had to sign off on the consumer rules, and funding for the division would come from fees assessed on nonbanks. And unlike the underlying bill, Republicans would maintain federal pre-emption of state consumer protection laws, which would prevent the financial industry from having to beat back proposals in 50 different states.

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Financial Services Update – Issue 10

 
Senate Financial Regulatory Reform Bill
On Monday, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) introduced his latest draft financial regulatory reform bill. The bill creates a new consumer protection agency, which will be located within the Federal Reserve, with regulatory authority over financial products such as mortgages and credit cards. The legislation also creates a resolution authority framework to liquidate failed financial firms, imposes stricter capital and leverage requirements on banks, creates a systemic risk council, requires shareholders be allowed a non-binding vote on executive compensation, and imposes new rules and standards for credit rating agencies. The bill also alters the banking regulatory structure by giving the FDIC regulatory oversight of state banks with assets below $50 billion, giving the OCC authority over national banks and federal thrifts with assets below $50 billion, eliminates the Office of Thrift Savings, and gives the Federal Reserve authority over national banks and thrift holding companies with assets of over $50 billion. Finally, the bill contains language regarding the regulation of over-the-counter “OTC” derivatives that is identical to Dodd’s November draft bill, but Dodd has indicated his desire to replace those provisions with language currently being negotiated between Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH). Sources indicate Reed and Gregg may be unable to reach an agreement on such language, and with the markup scheduled to begin next Monday and hundreds of amendments expected to be filed, it remains to be seen how Dodd will handle these provisions.
 

Dodd and Bernanke Exchange Criticism Over Proposed New Fed Role
On Wednesday, Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Ben Bernanke and former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker testified before the House Financial Services Committee at a hearing examining the central bank’s regulatory duties. During his testimony and under questioning by Committee members, Bernanke criticized Senate Banking Chairman Dodd’s draft regulatory reform bill for its provisions which remove the Fed’s supervisory role over small banks, saying it will deprive the central bank of key information it uses to execute monetary policy. On Thursday, Dodd’s staff countered Bernanke’s criticism by citing former Fed Vice Chair Alice Rivlin’s statement from a July 2009 Senate Banking Committee hearing in which she stated, “I don’t think that supervising individual banks is important to making monetary policy. I know that was said around the table when I was at the Fed, but I didn’t really experience that we learned a lot from supervising particular banking institutions that was useful to monetary policy.”

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Financial Services Update – Issue 6

Financial Services Update – Issue 6

February 21, 2010

Authored by: Matt Jessee

Senate Financial Regulatory Bill

On Friday, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd indicated he would introduce a new financial regulation reform bill next week.  The markup for the bill would therefore likely occur during the week of March 1-5.  Dodd and Republican Senator Bob Corker, who announced last week that the pair would be working together on the bill, are spending this week together on a Congressional trip to South America.  While there is bipartisan agreement on major issues including resolution authority, consumer protection remains one of the largest areas unresolved.  The role of the Federal Reserve in the new financial regulatory scheme also remains a point of contention.  In a change from the bill he introduced in November, Dodd is now likely to propose creating a council of regulators to monitor emerging risks, which would be chaired by the Treasury Secretary.

Fed Raises Discount Rate

On Thursday, the Federal Reserve Board of Governors raised the discount rate (the rate charged to banks for direct loans) by a quarter-point to 0.75 percent, effective Friday, February 19, 2010. It was the first increase in the discount rate since June 2006.  The change was sooner than most analysts had predicted which  indicated to many investors that the Fed would tighten monetary policy in the near future.  Banks have generally been reducing their reliance on the discount rate over the past year.  As of February 17th, banks had borrowed $14.1 billion as opposed to a year ago when borrowing stood at $65.1 billion.

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