The Financial Stability Oversight Council will meet Thursday amid signs that the first designation of an insurer as systemically significant is imminent.
They are approving the FSOC annual report in the public part of the hearing at 2:30, but the key decision by the FSOC will likely be made later in private session, and perhaps not announced for several days.
The implication is historic, because, according to officials of the Congressional Research Service, insurance has been regulated exclusively by the states for 150 years.
Indeed, a provision of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 specifically bars the Federal Reserve from overseeing insurance holding companies.
“The FSOC is finally nearing a decision to name several large, nonbank financial institutions as nonbank Systemically Important Financial Institutions (SIFIs),” Ryan Schoen of Washington Analysis, which advises institutional investors and hedge funds, said in an investor’s note Tuesday.
“We continue to expect that AIG, General Electric, and Prudential, will comprise the first round of designations,” Schoen said.
“We also expect MetLife to be designated shortly thereafter, possibly as early as the third quarter of this year, Schoen said.
See also: MetLife CEO rejects SIFI
Schoen said that under the SIFI designation, the companies will be overseen by the Fed. He said they will be held to minimum capital and liquidity standards, in addition to counterparty credit exposure limits.
“However, it is not clear how tailored these standards will be for a given type of institution.
John Nadel, of Sterne Agee & Leach in New York, also dealt with the latter issue in interpreting a decision this week by MetLife to raise its dividend as a potential sign that MetLife, which has aggressively lobbied against designation as a SIFI, is coming to a meeting of the Fed.
“We start with this premise – that it is highly unlikely in our view that MetLife's management and board would raise the dividend without some form of discussion with the Fed, recognizing that there is a high probability the Fed will in fact again be MetLife's regulator assuming a nonbank SIFI designation,” Nadel said.
“If our assumption is accurate (we'd hope for some clarity on this from MetLife's first quarter conference call next week), then it might follow that the Fed is indeed demonstrating it both: 1) Recognizes insurance companies are different and 2) Is willing (several officials have already acknowledged this in public events) to stress-test insurance company SIFIs under a unique (as opposed to bank) set of standards," Nadel said.
“And of course if this is the case, then it seems logical that all three potential insurance company SIFIs would have a significantly better chance of passing than they might otherwise if simply subjected to the bank model,” Nadel said.
“Yes, we may very well be reading too deeply between the lines, but with MetLife and Prudential trading at just 6.7x and 6.6x 2014E EPS currently, the upside appears much greater than the downside,” Nadel said.
Amongst other signs of impending action, the Treasury Department has advertised on USAJobs, a website used to advertise federal jobs, for a policy analyst who would work for the FSOC.
The job is seen as an effort to provide a professional aide to Roy Woodall, the independent member with insurance expertise who is a voting member of the FSOC.
“We are recruiting to fill a key policy analyst position to assist this member,” the job description said.
Another sign came via comments in a Bloomberg article Monday by Debbie Matz, an FSOC member and who serves on the council as chairman of the National Credit Union Administration.
In her comments, Matz said a credit union is unlikely to be designated as systemically significant.
“What we are looking at are non-regulated entities like insurance companies,” she said.
Even the largest credit union wouldn’t draw the council’s oversight because it’s already federally regulated, she added.
And, last Thursday, Mary J. Miller, U.S. Treasury undersecretary for domestic finance, said at a financial conference in New York, that the government “is nearing the end of the process” of designating which nonbanks will be deemed systemically significant and therefore subject to federal regulation.
In comments to A.M. Best this week at the Risk and Insurance Management Society meeting in Los Angeles, John Doyle, chief executive officer of global commercial insurance for AIG, said customers would find it a comfort if his company were deemed a systemically important financial institution.
“I think of some of the conversations I've had with some of our customers, I think it'll be positive, actually,” Doyle told BestWeek. “I think they'll take some comfort in a global regulator looking at the parent company. I'm quite encouraged by that. I think in the end that our customers and our brokers will feel the same way.”