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House seeks to block FSOC actions

The bill would bar the FSOC from designating any financial institution as systemically significant for six months.
The bill would bar the FSOC from designating any financial institution as systemically significant for six months.

The House Financial Services Committee is moving to effectively shut down the operations of the Federal Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) for at least six months. The panel has scheduled a vote Thursday on H.R. 4387, the FSOC Transparency and Accountability Act.

It would bar the FSOC from designating any financial institution as systemically significant for six months. It would also require the FSOC to allow members of the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee to attend all meetings, whether opened or closed. The vote on the bill was called for by Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, chairman of the committee.

The 2014 FSOC annual report highlights the risks to the financial system posed by several nonbank financial services companies, which have continually drawn scrutiny from federal regulators. A moratorium on SIFI designations, as proposed by Hensarling, would undoubtedly alleviate the near-term regulatory concerns of these companies. However, analysts view the odds of this legislation passing as highly limited.

Lobbying in opposition to the bill has already been launched by the AFL-CIO, Americans for Financial Reform, and the Systemic Risk Council.

The bill’s immediate impact would likely be on the designation of MetLife as a systemically significant financial institution or SIFI. MetLife is in Stage III or the final stage, of the SIFI designation process. MetLife has been lobbying against designation as a SIFI for more than a year, and the FSOC has responded by slowing its decision-making process on MetLife to ensure it has all its ducks in a row before making a decision.

But, it would also impact money market mutual funds and money managers, who have been notified they are under scrutiny for possible designation as SIFIs. A recent report indicated that the FSOC is eyeing mortgage servicers and mortgage REITs for possible designation as SIFIs.

The FSOC already has designated three non-banks — American International Group, General Electric Capital Corp. and Prudential Financial, Inc. — as SIFIs. The spotlight turned on money managers last September when an FSOC report prepared by the Treasury Department's Office of Financial Research identified activities of 20 of the largest U.S. money managers as possible sources of risk.

And, at the annual meeting of the Investment Company Institute May 21, Paul Schott Stevens, president and CEO, said that designating mutual funds as SIFIs “would impair the single best tool available to average Americans for retirement saving and individual investment — as well as a key source of financing in our economy.”

The legislation is sponsored by Hensarling and Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., chairman of the panel’s Capital Markets Subcommittee. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew heads the FSOC, which was created by the Dodd-Frank financial services reform law. A spokesman for the Treasury Department declined comment.

However, several letters strongly opposing H.R. 4387 have surfaced in recent days. For example, the Systemic Risk Council, which is headed by Sheila Bair, former chairman of the FDIC and who now works out of the Pew Family Trust, said in a June 9 letter to the FSC that it has “deep concerns” about the bill. Its senior advisor is Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.

“We fear that this proposed legislation would undermine the Financial Stability Oversight Council’s (FSOC) ability to identify emerging risks in the financial system and perform the functions necessary to prevent crippling financial crises from happening in the future,” the letter reads.

It also said that imposing a moratorium on FSOC determinations is similarly counterproductive and “would worsen the problem of too big to fail by chilling regulatory efforts to ensure sufficient capital and loss absorbency at potentially destabilizing large, complex financial institutions.” The letter said the bill would also perpetuate regulatory “blindness” over the consolidated risks of these firms.

The bill would also delay further the creation and review of living wills and resolution plans to make sure that these firms “can fail in an orderly way without taxpayer bailouts.” By helping to address these risks, FSOC designations “play an essential part in protecting the American public from unbridled risk-taking by large, inter-connected financial institutions, and the sudden, widespread market disruptions that can result when they fail.”

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