Thursday, May 20, 2010

Financial Reform passes!

In another stunning victory for the Obama Administration, the US Senate passed the financial regulatory reform bill by a vote of 59-39 on Thursday night. (A summary of the legislation can be found on the Senate Banking Committee website.)

We are optimistic that this legislation will begin to address the "trust issues" that now dominate the equity marketplace. It was these "trust issues" that caused a 1,000 point intra-day fall in the Dow Jones Industrial Index on May 6. Until now, rational, fair or effective solutions to the practices that caused so much turmoil in 2007, 2008 and 2009 had not been enacted in any Western economy or market system.

Market mechanisms are simply stressed to the breaking point, given the sharp rise in transaction costs. Transaction costs increased as marketplace ethics decreased. Financial market institutions, recognizing that a decline in ethical standards eventually leads to a decline in trust and an increase in transaction costs, attempted to use financial innovation to deal with the ethics/trust issue. They did so via derivatives: these and other financial market "innovations" were designed to counter a growing lack of ethics in the marketplace. (This is why AIG Group was a key factor in the crisis: insurance policies they sold on financial transactions were supposed to eliminate the need to be concerned with unscrupulous (see Goldman emails) actors. These "insurance policies" proved ineffective, however, and only served to increase transaction costs further.) These increased transaction costs precipitated and caused global market failure in 2007 and 2008.

While we would not be surprised to see the market fall significantly over the next few weeks, markets will recover once transaction costs are lowered. Transaction costs will be lowered when ethical standards, and the trust that results from them, are increased. The financial reform legislation, championed by the Obama Administration and passed by both the House and Senate, is an attempt to do so. While additional legislation will be required, we think this a good first step.

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