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Financial Services Update – September 23, 2011

House Passes Government Funding Bill, Shutdown Looms Again

The fiscal year Continuing Resolution (CR) that funds the government in lieu of Appropriations bills expires on September 30th. Therefore, Congress is required to pass another funding resolution by October 1st in order to prevent a government shutdown. The House passed its CR late Thursday night after cutting an additional $100M from the Department of Energy program that backed the Solyndra loan. The House bill contains $3.65B in disaster relief, which is partially offset by a $1.5B cut to a Department of Energy loan program for manufacturers of fuel-efficient cars. On Friday, the Senate voted to reject the House’s bill by a vote of 59 to 36 because Senate Democrat leaders are seeking greater disaster relief funding. The most likely outcome is for the House and Senate to pass a “clean” CR that funds the government until November 18 and postpones the debate over increasing disaster funding. While Congress is scheduled to be in recess next week, the House and Senate must reach an agreement on a funding resolution before recessing.

Former SEC General Counsel Testifies About Madoff Ties

On Thursday, David Becker, the former general counsel of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), testified before two Congressional panels regarding a report released this week by the SEC’s inspector general that referred Becker’s actions to the Justice Department for an investigation of possible violations of conflict-of-interest laws. Prior to Becker’s appearance before the committees, SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro and SEC Inspector General David Kotz also testified about their knowledge of the Becker matter. While Becker testified that he told numerous SEC officials about his financial connection to Madoff accounts, Schapiro told the Committee that she did not inform the other four SEC commissioners because Becker was cleared by the SEC’s ethics office. It is unclear if the Justice Department’s investigation will lead to any charges against Becker, but the SEC is already adopting several changes based on the inspector general’s report, including redirecting the top ethics officer to report directly to the chairman of the commission, rather than the general counsel.

House Subcommittee Passes First Postal Reform Bill

On Wednesday, the House Government Reform Oversight Subcommittee passed legislation to overhaul the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The bill, sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, would allow USPS to drop a delivery day and adjust labor costs. However, Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., who chairs the House Oversight Subcommittee responsible for postal issues, introduced and passed a substitute amendment to the bill that also would cut back door-to-door delivery and reduce the postal workforce starting with retirement-eligible employees before laying off other staff. The bill now heads to the full Committee for consideration.

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Financial Services Update – April 1, 2011

Government Shutdown Looms

With the current temporary funding resolution set to expire April 8, House and Senate Appropriations committees worked toward crafting a six-month compromise bill, setting annual spending at $1.055 trillion, $28 billion more than the House-passed level but still a $33 billion cut from the original spending measure. However, House Republicans remain splintered over whether a shutdown would be good politically, or whether they should compromise with Democrats in order to move on to larger future battles such as next year’s budget and the debt ceiling increase. Meanwhile, Democrats also remain divided over whether to allow a shutdown to happen or acquiesce to Republican cuts. Whether a compromise can be reached to avoid a shutdown will be known next week.

Unemployment Rate Drops to 8.8%

On Friday, the Department of Labor announced that the unemployment rate dipped to 8.8% in March from 8.9% in February. Nonfarm payrolls gained 216,000, with private-sector employment rising by 230,000. Payroll employment stood at 130.7 million in March. There were gains of 199,000 jobs in services and 17,000 jobs in manufacturing in March. Government employment fell by 14,000 and 9,000 jobs were lost in education. Nearly half of the unemployed have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. Private-sector wages fell 2 cents an hour to $19.30.

Ally Financial Files for IPO

On Thursday, Ally Financial, the former finance arm of General Motors, filed for an initial public offering that would allow the federal government to begin selling off its 73.8 percent stake.  Ally said in its registration statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that it was seeking to raise $100 million.  Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley are the lead underwriters.  The company did not give an estimated date or share price for the offering.  The Treasury Department, which invested more than $17 billion in Ally, did not say how much of its stake it intended to sell.  In addition to common shares, the Treasury Department owns $5.9 billion in convertible preferred stock.  Earlier this month, the Treasury Department began unwinding its holdings in Ally, selling $2.7 billion in trust preferred securities.

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Financial Services Update – December 17, 2010

Congress Passes Tax Package

On Monday, the Senate passed the $858 billion tax package sending the bill back to the House where it passed late Thursday night. The bill now heads to President Obama’s desk for his signature into law. While the package does not include a repeal of the Form 1099 health care requirement or extension of the Buy American Bond program, the bill does the following major items:

  • extends through 2012 the current individual income tax brackets, capital gains and dividends rates for all taxpayers;
  • increases the AMT exemption amounts for 2010 to $47,450 (individuals) and $72,450 (married filing jointly) and for 2011 to $48,450 (individuals) and $74,450 (married filing jointly);
  • extends through 2011 the ability to take an itemized deduction for state and local general sales taxes in lieu of the itemized deduction permitted for state and local income taxes;
  • exempts from taxation the first $10 million of a couple’s estate and the first $5 million of an individual’s estate, with the remaining portion taxed at the 35 percent rate;
  • extends and temporarily increases the bonus depreciation provision for investments in new business equipment;
  • reduces the payroll/self-employment tax during 2011 to 4.2 percent on wage-earners and to 10.4 percent on self-employment income up to the threshold;
  • reinstates through 2011 the research and development credit;
  • extends the 100 percent exclusion of the gain from the sale of qualifying small business stock that is acquired before January 1, 2012 and held for more than five years;
  • extends through 2011 the special 15-year cost recovery period for certain leasehold improvements, restaurant buildings and improvements, and retail improvements;
  • extends through 2011 the $0.50 per gallon alternative fuel credit and credit for energy-efficient improvements to existing homes.

Fed Proposes New Interchange Fees

On Thursday, the Federal Reserve announced a set of new debit-card fee restrictions more aggressive than most industry experts expected. The new restrictions, most of which will not be made final until April 21, are designed to restrict the fees that debit-card issuers can charge merchants. Banks would face a seven-to-12-cent-per-transaction cap on the interchange fees under either of the two proposals unveiled Thursday. Under the first plan, card-issuing banks could use a formula to determine the maximum amount of the interchange fee that it would collect, based on certain processing costs and would set a “safe harbor” standard at seven cents per transaction. The second alternative would set the cap at 12 cents without any safe harbor. Under the Fed’s proposal, the Fed Board would re-evaluate the cap every two years.

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Financial Services Update

Financial Services Update

November 29, 2010

Authored by: Matt Jessee

Irish Bailout Finalized Sunday

On Sunday, Ireland finalized plans for a bailout from the European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF), after approval from EU finance ministers. European leaders hoped that such a measure would be a firewall against further bailouts in other Eurozone countries, but concern has grown over the past week that Portugal and Spain could also need such loans. The rescue package for Ireland is estimated to be worth tens of billions of dollars. Individual European nations have also announced their own loans to Ireland. Britain is putting together a $11.5 billion package and Sweden’s prime minister announced a $1.5 billion loan on Thursday. Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen last week announced a four-year “austerity plan” designed to cut spending and increase taxes. The plan would save $13.4 billion through welfare cuts and raise $6.7 billion through higher taxes. The plan’s spending cuts include reductions in the minimum wage and public-sector pay and fee increases in the VAT, utilities, education tuition, and income taxes.

Car Czar Announces Reduction in Government Oversight of GM

On Friday, the Obama administration’s “Car Czar” Ron Bloom said the government will reduce its oversight of General Motors (GM) as the government sells more of its GM stock. Since GM emerged from bankruptcy sixteen months ago, it has provided the Treasury with “regular, detailed” briefings on its financial condition. Bloom and other Administration officials took an active role during the run-up to GM’s initial public stock offering Thursday, helping to determine how much stock to sell and what price the underwriters should pay. Bloom and others will also attend GM’s first annual meeting as a public company and will vote the government’s shares on key issues. Bloom denied that the government exerted any pressure and pushed for an early IPO. However, Bloom noted that the size of the deal, the pricing and the fees to be paid to underwriters were in the government’s purview. The government ultimately sold more shares than it previously had planned — 358 million of its 912 million shares — at $33 a share. The government will need to sell its remaining shares at an average price of $52.80 to break even.

Geithner Opposes Reduction in Fed Mandate and Extension of Bush Tax Cuts

November’s election results have empowered Congressional Republicans to assert new found authority, leading Republicans to increase their criticisms of the Federal Reserve’s plan, known as “quantitative easing,” to buy $600 billion in assets, saying it would fuel inflation and asset bubbles. Republicans have cited the Fed’s dual mandate to pursue full employment as well as to promote price stability as the cause of the problem. On Tuesday, in reaction to Republican attacks, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the Obama administration would oppose any effort to strip the Federal Reserve of its mandate to pursue full employment, saying such attacks by Republicans would politicize the central bank. While Geithner also declined to say what compromise the Obama administration would be willing to make on extending the Bush income tax cuts, he did say he opposed making permanent the tax reductions for those making more than $250,000.

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