Category Archive 'Sarbanes-Oxley'

12 Oct 2011

Wall Street In Steep Decline

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The left is protesting Wall Street while Barack Obama continues to whip up popular resentment of the US financial industry, but the massive regulation of that industry effectuated by Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank are already making sure that liberals are not going to have the world center of finance capitalism based conveniently in Lower Manhattan when they feel like kicking it around some more.

As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, Wall Street is in serious decline. Jobs are evaporating.

New York City’s securities industry could lose nearly 10,000 jobs by the end of 2012, New York state’s comptroller predicted, a painful blow to the area’s economy and government budgets.

New York City’s securities industry could lose nearly 10,000 jobs by the end of 2012, New York state’s comptroller predicted, a painful blow to the area’s economy and government budgets, Aaron Lucchetti reports on Markets Hub. Banks in the New York area are also poised to shed jobs. Photo: AP.

In a report set to be released Tuesday, Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli also said bonuses are likely to shrink this year, reflecting lower profits on Wall Street.

Since January 2008, the securities industry in New York has seen 22,000 jobs evaporate. If Mr. DiNapoli’s prediction of 10,000 more jobs losses between August 2011 and year-end 2012 comes true, that would represent a decline of 17%. About 4,100 jobs have been eliminated since April, and deeper cuts are widely seen as inevitable given a recent flurry of corporate expense-trimming announcements.

There is a 1:1 relationship between recent federal regulations and Wall Street’s decline. Disgruntled lesbian rockers who think that capitalism has not been properly compensating them will soon have to go demonstrate in London and Abu Dhabi.

09 Feb 2009

Politicizing the Economy Caused the Crash

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Scott S. Powell, writing in Barron’s, exonerates George W. Bush for the mortgage crisis and blames instead a long-term trend featuring the intrusion of politics into the US economy.

Well, electing Obama will certainly fix that, won’t it?

The Bush administration made many mistakes, but deregulation was not one of them.

Not only was there no major deregulation passed during the past eight years, but the Bush administration and a Republican Congress approved the most sweeping financial-market regulation in decades.

The bipartisan Sarbanes-Oxley Act was enacted in 2002 to prevent corporate fraud and restore investor confidence after the collapse of Enron and WorldCom. It failed to prevent the accounting fraud and influence-peddling scandals at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And even after those scandals were widely understood, regulators sent Fannie and Freddie back into the market to continue buying subprime loans, lending and borrowing with implied taxpayer backing.

Across the government, the Bush administration supported new regulations that added almost 1,000 pages a year to the Federal Register, nearly a record. If this is insufficient regulation, it’s hard to imagine a scope that would be effective.

We are in this mess largely because critical thought and moral judgment have been subordinated to the politicization of our economy, resulting in regulatory gaps and excessive controls of the wrong kind.

Government regulations should be limited to those that increase and protect transparency and competition, protect public and private property, promote individual responsibility and enforce equal opportunity under the law. Even if the right laws and regulations could be found, they would prove insufficient to protect freedom and prosperity.

In his farewell address, George Washington said that religion and morality are essential to sustain democracy in America. He might well have added that virtue is just as indispensable to its economy. When the captains of banking and finance and their congressional overseers fail in moral judgment, the results are disastrous for everyone. As we are now witnessing in the real-estate, stock- and bond-market dislocations, once trust is lost, markets freeze and long-standing relationships break down, resulting in illiquidity, irrational pricing and severe losses.

Today’s problems have their roots in programs and financial instruments that shifted the locus of moral responsibility away from private individuals and institutions to wider circles that were understood to end with a government guarantee. Heads of the top banks and financial institutions could approve substandard home-mortgage underwriting — prone to increased default — because those loans could be securitized by Wall Street and sold off to investors or to government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs), with no likely recourse to the financial institution of origin.

Our present crisis began in the 1970s, during the Carter administration, with passage of the Community Reinvestment Act to stem bank redlining and liberalize lending in order to extend home ownership in lower-income communities. Then in the 1990s, the Department of Housing and Urban Development took a fateful step by getting the GSEs to accept subprime mortgages. With Fannie and Freddie easing credit requirements on loans they would purchase from lenders, banks could greatly increase lending to borrowers unqualified for conventional loans. In the name of extending affordable housing, this broadened the acceptability of risky loans throughout the financial system.

The risk lurking in the GSE portfolios was acknowledged in the Bush administration’s first fiscal-year budget, released in April 2001. It stated that Fannie and Freddie were “a potential problem” because “financial trouble of a large GSE could cause strong repercussions in the financial markets, affecting federally insured entities and economic activity.” Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan issued repeated warnings that the GSEs “placed the total financial system of the future at substantial risk.” Such warnings went unheeded even after accounting scandals rocked Fannie and Freddie.

The collapse and government seizure of Fannie and Freddie in September 2008 ended the experiment in partial socialization of the U.S. housing sector. Before we try complete concentration of federal financial power, we should understand that power and political corruption abrogated moral judgment on every level.

The poor and middle class were encouraged to live beyond their means and buy houses they couldn’t afford; speculators were lured into excessive risk-taking; banks were rewarded for lowering their loan standards; and Wall Street found new windfall profits from securitizing and reselling bad loans in bulk. With the support of regulators, credit-rating agencies provided cover for the whole charade.

There is plenty of blame to go around on both sides of the political aisle. But the lesson should be clear that socializing failed businesses — whether in housing, health care or in Detroit — is not a long-term solution. Expanding government’s intrusion into the private sector doesn’t come without great risk. The renewing and self-correcting nature of the private sector is largely lost in the public sector, where accountability is impaired by obfuscation of responsibility, and where special interests benefit even when the public good is ill-served.

13 Jan 2009

What’s Wrong With Silicon Valley?

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Business Week’s Steve Hamm says the problem is greedy investors’ short term thinking and aversion to risk, and those stingy VCs should start funding “bold new directions” while waiting for Uncle Obama to open up the federal tap.

Hamm’s article lit the fuse of Michael S. Malone at Live from Silicon Valley.

Since Steve Hamm and Business Week aren’t willing to give you anything but their own big government/big business solutions to the perceived crisis, let me give you the real story – and real solutions – from somebody who has been on the ground here in Silicon Valley for 45 years:

Yes, Silicon Valley – and by extension, the U.S. high technology industry, is in something of a crisis right now. Part of it is the fact that, as the largest manufacturing sector in the US economy, electronics is not immune to the larger financial crisis currently impacting the world.

But there a lot of other problems as well. For one thing, the venture capital industry is in real trouble – not because of a lack of courage, but because government interference – most notably, Sarbanes-Oxley – has proven almost fatal to the new company creation process. With almost no potential for a big pay-out on the back end (because companies don’t ‘go public’ any more), VC’s are having to be much tighter on the front end. That’s good business, not gutlessness.

As for the entrepreneurs themselves, to charge them with a lack of courage or character is truly insulting. Instead of hob-nobbing with senior executives, Steve should have called me. I would have taken him to the little Peet’s Coffee shop in nearby Cupertino where I get my lattes twice per day. There, I would have shown him that on any given day you can see at least two entrepreneurial teams – a half-dozen guys huddled over a single laptop editing spreadsheets – almost always different, and all dreaming of starting the Next Big Company. There are hundreds of these start-up teams all over the Valley right now – indeed, I think there is more entrepreneurial fervor going on right now than just about any other time in Valley history.

Are these folks thinking small? Are they short on courage? No, what they are is pragmatic. That’s the essence of being an entrepreneur. They know what the business landscape is out there, and they are adjusting their plans to succeed in that new reality.

No, the problem is not that entrepreneurs and investors in Silicon Valley and the rest of high tech aren’t thinking big, it’s that they aren’t being allowed to. If Business Week would just take off its ideological blinders, it would realize that if Washington really wanted to help a sick Silicon Valley, it would get out of the way, and strip away all of those worthless regulations that are inhibiting the imagination and the creativity of this town.

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