Panel says Fed should monitor systemic risk

Group favors that approach over one where federal regulators would share duties through a council.

An independent group Tuesday called on Congress to make the Federal Reserve the nation's super-regulator to monitor systemic risk across the financial services industry, rejecting a competing proposal that would share the duties within a council made up of different federal regulators.

The Committee on Capital Markets Regulation argued such authority should be vested with the central bank because it would ensure there would be clear accountability and authority to act to prevent a collapse of a major firm that could imperil the U.S. economy. A council approach would be inefficient, indecisive and compromising, the panel added. "We feel that is just continuing the problems of the past," said Hal Scott, a Harvard University law professor who served as committee director. "If everybody is responsible, then nobody is responsible."

The federal government has acted on an ad-hoc basis to intervene in cases to prevent the collapse of Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, with the Fed and the Treasury Department playing a leading role.

But lawmakers appear reluctant to vest the central bank with expanded authority. Some liberals cite its past lack of consumer protection to prevent predatory mortgages, while conservatives say it would take away from its main role to set monetary policy.

But the committee hopes its recommendations will have some sway on Capitol Hill, given that its members represent an array of business, academic and regulatory communities.

They include Glenn Hubbard, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under former President George W. Bush; John Thornton, chairman of Brooking; and Wilbur L. Ross Jr., chairman of WL Ross & Co.

The panel also called for greater regulation of the derivatives market, requiring that most over-the-counter trades be made through a clearinghouse system that has reporting requirements.

The call for greater regulation comes in response to the credit-default swap crisis that led to the downfall of American International Group Inc. after the company overleveraged its bets on the market.

Hubbard said the committee's position could be viewed as a stronger regulatory response than the Obama plan pushed by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. "He's used the word 'encouraged' while we have used the word 'required.' It is definitely a similar theme," Hubbard said.

Scott noted the panel also called for a more robust overhaul of how the government takes over nonbanks such as AIG. The Treasury Department has proposed an FDIC-like entity that could take over such nonbanks, even though such companies are not designated in advance as "too big too fail."

The panel recommends that lawmakers spell out that all financial companies and their holding companies would be covered. "I think the Geithner proposal has the problem of identifying in advance systemically important institutions, or if they don't identify, confusing people to what insolvency regime will actually be applicable to a particular institution," Scott said.

The panel also called for confidential reporting for hedge funds and new capital standards for banks, allowing higher standards for boom times and looser standards during bear markets.

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