Cato Annual Conference: Phil Gramm – Former Chairman, Senate Banking Committee

Cato Institute’s Monetary Conference – Luncheon Address

Hon. Phil Gramm – Former Chairman, Senate Banking Committee

Mark Calabria introduces him, maybe a little over the top — some clever comments and insightful, though.  Gramm didn’t come to Congress to be loved.  What does Mother think of your ideas, Gramm would often ask.

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Cato Institute

Gramm: A few key points, try to be brief…

1) Most of what you know is not so — echoing Twain

Quotes a book on Monetary Policy from the 19th century.  Crisis: Obama: Greedy bankers took advantage of deregulation.

Insured commercial banks had high capital levels at the time of the crisis — 10% (DM: but look at the tangible capital ratios)

Government incented aggressive policies — highly levered with lots of Subprime mortgages as a result of CRA lending.  (DM: note, I saw this in the low income tax credit business.)

2) Banks have been deregulated over the last half-century.  No, at least not on net. FIRREA, Sarbox, and many others (of course look at Gramm Leach Bliley).

Glass Steagall existed prior to the Great Depression.  Glass believed in the real bills doctrine.  No evidence for banks overdoing margin lending.  The Fed started eroding Glass Steagall prior to GLB.  The only thing GLB did was allow banks to participate in a wide number of different businesses in separate subsidiaries.  Argues that it clarified regulatory authority.

GLB made banks more stable.  Clinton saw this in diversity of revenue streams.  Argues that GLB had nothing to do with crisis.

3) Financial crisis occurred because of institutions too big to fail.  940+ institutions were bailed out.  Many large firms did not need the bailouts, and it was forced on them.  Lehman was not too big to fail.

4) The bailouts were large and costly.  S&L bailout $258B.  Depositors bailed out.  Current bailout: US Govt made $24B on the bailout.

5) What turned the crisis into the Great Recession? Obama pursued bad economic policies that overcapitalized the banks.  As such the banks don’t lend, and the recovery was weak.

6) Worried about two hidden costs of Obama policies. a) run-up in the debt, which may lead to much high costs when interest rates normalize.  b) explosion of the monetary base — IOER and reverse repos ameliorate, but what if we had a real recovery?

Government might find itself competing with private sector for capital then.

Q&A

1) Erin Caddell, Capstone LLC — how would you modify Dodd-Frank?

He would eliminate most of it, except that banks have to take back mortgages that default early.

2) Student from Georgetown: Major headwinds for debt reduction, what will happen?

Debt reduction won’t be top priority.  Doesn’t get infrastructure investment.  Either get rid of Obamacare or not.  There will be people that lose as deregulation if it occurs.

Likes Pence and Priebus.  (for now)

Article by David Markel, The Aleph Blog

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David J. Merkel, CFA, FSA — 2010-present, I am working on setting up my own equity asset management shop, tentatively called Aleph Investments. It is possible that I might do a joint venture with someone else if we can do more together than separately. From 2008-2010, I was the Chief Economist and Director of Research of Finacorp Securities. I did a many things for Finacorp, mainly research and analysis on a wide variety of fixed income and equity securities, and trading strategies. Until 2007, I was a senior investment analyst at Hovde Capital, responsible for analysis and valuation of investment opportunities for the FIP funds, particularly of companies in the insurance industry. I also managed the internal profit sharing and charitable endowment monies of the firm. From 2003-2007, I was a leading commentator at the investment website RealMoney.com. Back in 2003, after several years of correspondence, James Cramer invited me to write for the site, and I wrote for RealMoney on equity and bond portfolio management, macroeconomics, derivatives, quantitative strategies, insurance issues, corporate governance, etc. My specialty is looking at the interlinkages in the markets in order to understand individual markets better. I no longer contribute to RealMoney; I scaled it back because my work duties have gotten larger, and I began this blog to develop a distinct voice with a wider distribution. After three-plus year of operation, I believe I have achieved that. Prior to joining Hovde in 2003, I managed corporate bonds for Dwight Asset Management. In 1998, I joined the Mount Washington Investment Group as the Mortgage Bond and Asset Liability manager after working with Provident Mutual, AIG and Pacific Standard Life. My background as a life actuary has given me a different perspective on investing. How do you earn money without taking undue risk? How do you convey ideas about investing while showing a proper level of uncertainty on the likelihood of success? How do the various markets fit together, telling us us a broader story than any single piece? These are the themes that I will deal with in this blog. I hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University. In my spare time, I take care of our eight children with my wonderful wife Ruth.