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U.S. seeks powers to seize non-bank financial firms

Posted on: March 26, 2009


AFP – Wednesday, March 25

WASHINGTON (AFP) – – US Treasury and Federal Reserve chiefs asked Congress Tuesday for unprecedented powers to seize financial firms outside the banking system if needed to maintain economic stability.

The government currently has the authority to take over only banks, and the new requested powers could enable authorities to take control of large insurers, investment firms and hedge funds during a financial turmoil.

Testifying at a congressional hearing, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the new powers could be part of new rules to tighten regulation of the financial system following the havoc caused by a US home mortgage meltdown that triggered global turmoil.

They cited the example of the unprecedented government multibillion-dollar bailout of US insurance giant American International Group (AIG) in September last year in what they said was a desperate bid to prevent global catastrophe.

“AIG highlights the urgent need for new resolution procedures for systemically important nonbank financial firms,” Bernanke told the House of Representatives financial services committee.

“If a federal agency had had such tools on September 16, they could have been used to put AIG into conservatorship or receivership, unwind it slowly, protect policyholders, and impose haircuts (reductions) on creditors and counterparties as appropriate,” he said.

“That outcome would have been far preferable to the situation we find ourselves in now,” he said apparently referring partly to public outrage over AIG’s payment of 165 million dollars in executive bonuses after the company received more than 170 billion dollars in a government rescue.

The bonuses were paid to executives in the unit responsible for bringing the company to the brink of collapse.

The AIG situation also highlighted the need for “strong, effective consolidated supervision of all systemically important financial firms,” Bernanke said.

Geithner emphasized that “the US government does not have the legal means today to manage the orderly restructuring of a large, complex, non-bank financial institution that poses a threat to the stability of our financial system.”

He wanted “all institutions and markets that could pose systemic risk” to be subject to strong oversight, including controls on risk-taking.

Geithner echoed Bernanke’s call for a new resolution authority so that the federal government had the tools it needs to unwind non-bank financial institutions if required.

Reacting to their testimony, President Barack Obama said he hoped to convince his Democratic party-controlled Congress to quickly hand him powers to close collapsed finance firms outside the banking sector that pose a systemic economic risk.

“I hope it doesn’t take too long to convince Congress,” he said when asked about the request for additional powers by the finance chiefs.

“That will be just one phase of a broader regulatory framework that we are going to have to put in place to prevent these kinds of crises happening again,” Obama said.

Republican lawmakers expressed caution over the financial reform proposal.

“We do need to have some control over it. But I would hope we could all work together on making sure that that is done and done correctly at some point in the relatively near future,” said Delaware lawmaker Michael Castle.

The Obama administration plans to send legislation proposing the new financial rules to Capitol Hill this week, the Washington Post said Tuesday, citing an administration document.

Giving the government authority over a broader range of companies would mark a significant shift from the existing model of financial regulation.

Current regulation relies on independent agencies that are shielded from the political process, the Post noted.

The Treasury secretary, a member of the president’s cabinet, would exercise the new financial regulatory powers in consultation with the White House, the Federal Reserve and other regulators, according to the document cited by the newspaper.

The US move comes ahead of a Group of 20 summit of developed and developing nations in London on April 2 to be attended by Obama, who wants to discuss a global strategy to improve financial rules aimed at fueling economic recovery.

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1 Response to "U.S. seeks powers to seize non-bank financial firms"

ARE WE TALKING ABOUT “THE MAN FROM MOMBASA”, OR HUGO PENN, NEE CHAVEZ.

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