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Obama unveils banking reform plans

President Barack Obama has proposed the most “sweeping” regulatory overhaul since the 1930s, vowing to stop future meltdowns in a financial system humbled by lax oversight, greed and huge debts.

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The reforms, which must be approved by Congress, will inject the government deeper into financial markets and industries in a bid to tame the recklessness which saw a mortgage meltdown tip the world into deep economic crisis.

“We did not choose how this crisis began. But we do have a choice in the legacy this crisis leaves behind,” Obama said, unveiling his reforms at the White House.

“So today, my administration is proposing a sweeping overhaul of the financial regulatory system, a transformation on a scale not seen since the reforms that followed the Great Depression.”

Obama blamed a “culture of irresponsibility,” a Great Depression-era regulatory system, reckless executive compensation, excessive debt and markets awash in new and risky financial products for sparking the crisis.

“An absence of oversight engendered systematic, and systemic, abuse,” Obama said.

“Instead of reducing risk, the markets actually magnified risks that were being taken by ordinary families and large firms alike.

“There was far too much debt and not nearly enough capital in the system. And a growing economy bred complacency.”n

New powers to the Reserve Bank

The proposals would give the Federal Reserve new powers to clamp firm regulation on all finance firms or banks that pose a significant systemic risk to the wider financial infrastructure.

They would introduce new discipline and transparency into financial markets and would enable investors to better ride out the failure of one or more large financial institution.

As previously announced, the reforms will include the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency to shield Americans from the extremes of credit, savings and mortgage markets.

The Office of Thrift Supervision — a federal bank regulator and supervisor — will be abolished under the reform proposals, officials said.

The agency came under fire for the near collapse of insurance giant AIG, which was eventually bailed out by the government for 180 billion dollars, and the failure of Washington Mutual, the biggest bank to fail in US history.

US investment banking icon Lehman Brothers had also collapsed at the height of the financial turmoil in September.

Overhaul ‘does not go far enough’

Some Obama critics, hoping for a top-to-bottom reconstruction of the greed-laced financial system, complained the overhaul did not go far enough, others said it would require too much government intervention in the economy.

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders called for greater action.

“We need to enact a national usury law so that big banks can’t charge outrageous interest rates and sky-high fees,” he said. “If a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist.”

Eric Cantor, a leading Republican in the House of Representatives, criticized Obama’s plans.

“We need smart regulation, not necessarily more regulation,” he said.

“The Administration has placed too much emphasis on government and too little on people.”

The US Chamber of Commerce said the plan had several positive recommendations, but simply added to “the layering of the system without addressing the underlying and fundamental problems.”

The non-partisan Financial Services Forum though described the proposal as “comprehensive and responsive” to deficiencies in the current system.

Obama took aim at some of the exploitative asset products and mortgages offered in those markets that lured American investors into trouble.

“These schemes were built on a pile of sand,” Obama said.

“The actions of many firms escaped scrutiny. In some cases, the dealings of these institutions were so complex and opaque that few inside or outside these companies understood what was happening.

National bank supervisor to be set up

Officials said a “national bank supervisor would be set up under the plans to supervise and regulate all federally charted depository institutions and federal branches and agencies of foreign banks.

Obama is also proposing stringent capital and liquidity requirements for the largest and most “interconnected” financial firms.

By early afternoon on Wednesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 19.57 points at 8524.24, but it fell 6.81 points (0.08 percent) to 8,497.36 at the close, its third straight day of losses.

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