Robert Reich: Wall Street Banks 'Should Be Split Up and Their Size Capped'

Wednesday, 11 Sep 2013 12:52 PM

By Michael Kling

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It's now five years since the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in the height of the financial crisis, but Wall Street's gambling addition is "more dangerous than ever," argues former Labor Secretary Richard Reich.

The big Wall Street banks are even bigger; The Dodd-Frank regulations meant to reign them in and prevent them from betting with savers' insured deposits are still being drafted by regulators; and Congress has failed to pass the Volcker Rule that would recreate the wall between investment banking and traditional commercial banking.

"The fact is, the giant Wall Street banks are ungovernable — too big to fail, too big to jail, too big to curtail. They should be split up, and their size capped," he writes on his blog.

Editor’s Note:
Weird Trick Adds $1,000 to Your Social Security Checks

Many politicians and pundits say the big banks should be broken up, but Reich contends the nation’s antitrust laws can be used to split up the banks without help from Congress. There's plenty of precedent, he says. For instance, the government split up Standard Oil in 1911 and "Ma Bell" in 1928.

"The Federal Reserve has authority to do it on its own in any event," he says.

Banks do have much larger balance sheets that provide extra safety cushions. Their risk-weight capital ratio is about 60 percent higher than before the crisis.

"But they’re back to too many of their old habits," Reich warns.

JPMorgan Chase lost $6.2 billion on credit default swaps last year, and then lied about it. It's under investigation for improper energy trading and hiring children of top Chinese officials in return for business. It's also been accused of committing fraud in collecting credit card debt, using false and misleading means of foreclosing on mortgages and misleading credit-card customers.

"Have we learned nothing since September 2008? Five years ago this month Wall Street almost went under. We bailed it out. Millions of Americans are still suffering the consequences of the Street’s excesses. Yet the Street’s top guns and fat cats are still treating the economy as their own private casino, and raking in even more than before."

Congress, for its part, should revive the Glass-Steagall Act, he notes.

"Legislation is needed, however, to resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act that once separated commercial banking from casino capitalism. But don’t hold your breath."

Some analysts say large banks should break up on their own to increase their valuations.
JPMorgan's individual business units would be worth 30 percent more, or an extra $59 billion, split from the bank as a whole, says KBW analyst Christopher Mutascio, according to Forbes.

"JPMorgan has lagged that of several other large cap banks within our coverage universe in recent weeks as headline risk to government investigations and litigations has weighed on the stock," he explains.

Editor’s Note: Weird Trick Adds $1,000 to Your Social Security Checks

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