Big banks have already begun poking the holes in Obama’s new rules—holes they expect their banks to pass through basically unchanged.
The president promised this morning to work with Congress to ensure that no bank or financial institution that contains a bank will own, invest in or sponsor a hedge fund or a private equity fund, or proprietary trading operations unrelated to serving customers for its own profit.
But sources at three banks tell us that they are already finding ways to own, investment in and sponsor hedge funds and private equity funds. Even prop trading seems safe.
A person familiar with the operations of one big Wall Street bank said it expects that new regulation will affect less than 1% of its overall business.
The key phrase is “operations unrelated to serving customers.” The banks plan to claim that much of the business in which it engages is related in one way or another to serving customers. Even proprietary trading, for instance, can become related to customer service if it is done through internal hedge funds in which some outside clients are permitted to invest.
One insider at a bank pointed to JP Morgan Chase’s (NYSE:JPM) ownership of the hedge fund Highbridge Capital. It is thought that under a strict “no hedge funds” rule, Highbridge would have to be sold off. But under the rule proposed by the Obama administration, Highbridge can be retained by JP Morgan because outside clients are permitted to invest in it.
A still more devious way is to have a banks own employees be the customers who are invested in the internal hedge funds. That way trading operations can remain closed to outsiders while the regulatory requirement of relating the trading to customer service is met. Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) is rumored to be considering this approach. (Goldman isn't commenting on the regs right now.)
“This thing is about showing the public that Obama is standing up to Wall Street. So the rhetoric is heated. But the implementation will require far less change than people think right now,” a person familiar with the thinking at the upper echelons of one of our largest banks said.
“The market is getting this wrong by selling off the megas,” a person at another bank said.
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