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Financial Services Update – August 26, 2011

Bernanke Signals No New Fed Stimulus

On Friday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke offered an upbeat assessment of the domestic economy that offered little indication of any immediate monetary stimulus by the Fed. However, Bernanke did acknowledge that the nation faces significant challenges, including high unemployment and an unsustainable federal debt. Bernanke also offered an unusual critique of the government’s fiscal policy, criticizing the political battle over raising the debt-ceiling. While Bernanke failed to signal any future Fed action, he did say the issue of potential action would be discussed at the next meeting in late September.

Treasury Department Announces OFAC Settlement with JPMorgan Chase

On Thursday, the Treasury Department announced that JPMorgan Chase has agreed to pay $88.3 million as part of a settlement over a series of transactions involving Cuba, Iran and Sudan. The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said in a news release that JPMorgan processed wire transfers totaling around $178.5 million for Cuban nationals in late 2005 and early 2006, violating United States embargo laws. The bank was also fined for a 2009 incident in which it made a $2.9 million loan to a bank that had ties to Iran’s government-owned shipping line, a violation of United States sanctions against Iran. The third violation occurred in 2010 and 2011, when the bank failed to give up documents about a wire transfer that referred to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. According to the release, the agency gave JPMorgan a list of documents believed to be possessed by JPMorgan. In response, JPMorgan, which previously said it had no such documents, produced more than 20 of the items in question.

S&P President Resigns

On Tuesday, McGraw-Hill, parent company of Standard & Poor’s (S&P), announced that S&P President Deven Sharma will step down from his position by the end of the year and be replaced by Douglas Peterson, the chief operating officer at Citigroup. McGraw-Hill said Sharma’s decision was not influenced by the United States’ credit rating downgrade or an investigation by the Justice Department over S&P’s rating of its subprime securities. The company said the decision to replace Sharma took place over six months ago when the Board of Directors decided to split the company into four divisions due to increasing pressure from investors.

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Financial Services Update – August 5, 2011

Economy Adds 117,000 Jobs in July

On Friday, the Department of Labor announced that the United States economy added 117,000 jobs in July causing the unemployment rate to fall to 9.1 percent from 9.2 percent in June. The Labor Department also revised its estimate of job growth in June to 46,000 from the previously reported 18,000.

European and Asian Leaders Call for Global Economic Cooperation

On Friday, the leaders of Germany, France and Spain scheduled an emergency conference after China and Japan called for global policy cooperation in response to the selloff in international markets. On Thursday, the European Central Bank (ECB) reactivated its dormant bond-buying program in an attempt to halt the deepening sovereign debt crisis, but the ECB only purchased Portuguese and Irish debt. Japanese Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda called on global policymakers to confront currency distortions, the debt crises and concerns about the U.S. economy. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi also said U.S. debt risks were escalating and countries should step up cooperation on global economic risks.

Congress Passes and President Signs Debt Limit Deal Averting Default

On Monday, the House of Representatives approved a compromise deal to raise the debt limit by a vote of 269-161. The bill, which was brokered Sunday night in last-minute negotiations between the White House and congressional leaders, passed with the support of 174 Republicans and 95 Democrats. On Tuesday, the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 74 to 26, and President Obama signed the legislation into law. The compromise allows a debt ceiling increase by as much as $2.4 trillion in total, with an immediate increase of $400 billion. President Obama is permitted to request a $500 billion increase in the coming months, which Congress could vote to disallow by a veto proof two-thirds margin. The agreement calls for more than $900 billion over ten years in spending cuts from defense and non-defense related programs, agencies and day-to-day spending, however Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security cuts are prohibited. A further increase of the debt ceiling between $1.2 trillion and $1.5 trillion would be available after the “Super Committee” of six Republicans and six Democrats identifies matching levels of additional spending cuts. The Committee must complete its work by November 23, and if the Committee passes by a simple majority vote a recommendation of cuts and/or tax increases matching the debt ceiling increase, Congress must hold an up or down vote on the Committee recommendations by December 23. The Committee could overhaul the tax code or find savings in Medicare or other entitlement programs, however Congress can not modify the Committee’s recommendation before voting. Should the committee deadlock or should Congress reject the Committee’s recommendations, automatic across the board spending cuts of at least $1.2 trillion would automatically go into effect. The agreement also requires that the House of Representatives and the Senate vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. The deal also includes changes to Pell Grants and student loan programs. Pell Grants will receive a $17 billion increase for low-income college students, which will be financed by the elimination of subsidized student loans for most graduate students. The compromise does not include any immediate revenue additions or tax increases.

Temporary FAA Agreement Reached

On Thursday, Congressional leaders reached an agreement on a six week extension of funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), ending a stalemate over the agency’s reauthorization. It was uncertain after the bill’s passage if Congress would act to restore back pay to the furloughed FAA employees or other non-federal airport workers who have been laid off since July 23. Unless the House and Senate negotiators are able to reach an agreement on a new funding package within six weeks, they will again force the FAA to furlough employees.

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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FDIC Insurance Unaffected by Debt Ceiling

The failure of Congress to raise the debt ceiling should have no short-term impact on the ability of the FDIC to cover insured deposits.

The FDIC Deposit Insurance Fund (the “Fund”) is supported by assessments levied by the FDIC on individual banks. After experiencing above normal outflows from the Fund due to the recent spate of bank failures, the FDIC recently required banks to prepay three years’ worth of premiums in order to restore its financial strength.  While the Fund has been running a negative balance on an actuarial basis for several quarters, the FDIC projected that the Fund would have a positive balance by the end of the second quarter.

At the end of the first quarter (the last date for which information is currently available), the Fund’s liquid assets, cash and marketable securities, totaled $45.5 billion. In addition, the FDIC has a $100 billion committed line of credit from the US Treasury as a backstop. We do not anticipate that the FDIC will have any problems meeting its obligations to cover any covered losses in insured deposit accounts.

The FDIC is an independent agency of the United States government.  Both the FDIC and the Fund are paid for by the banking industry, and not from the U.S. taxpayers. A default by the U.S. government on its obligations will have no impact on the FDIC or the FDIC Deposit Insurance Fund. Since 1933, no depositor has ever lost a single penny of FDIC-insured funds.

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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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