Today's op-ed is one of Geithner's more important ones. In it, he makes his long-awaited case for changing the structure of global banking. The big picture is that Geithner wants huge, structurally important banks to hold onto more capital during boom times. (For a more detailed run-down, see the Wall Street Journal.)
How are pundits reacting? As we near the one-year anniversary of the Lehman Brothers collapse, many have been asking when, if ever, the problems that let the banking sector capsize the economy would be fixed. They applaud the outline of the plan, which would trim banker bonuses, but many worry about getting European sign-off to carry out the details.
Here's the run-down of what they think about Geithner's plan and how it could change banking:
- The Right Plan--If Carried Out, applauds Kevin Drum in Mother Jones. He applauds the details of Geithner's outline, but cautions that regulating the "shadow banking" system (investment banks, hedge funds, etc.) will take more than good intentions. "We won't know how serious Geithner is about this stuff until he rolls out the details. But at least he seems to singing the right songs."
- No Definition of Which Banks Are Too Big, says Douglas A McIntyre at 24/7 Wall St. "The Treasury does not define which firms are big enough to be held to higher standards. Are they the ones which have already been put through the government's stress test mechanism?... The weakness of a great many of the financial regulatory programs put forward by the Administration is that they are phenomenally vague. They are not really any better than a trial balloon."
- Lower Pay for Bankers, At Last, cheers Felix Salmon at Reuters. He says that if the big honchos--Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch are "socked with higher capital ratios, then their profitability will fall, their bankers will be paid less, and prevailing remuneration expectations in the industry as a whole will decline accordingly. Which would be a most welcome development."
- Turning On Banks After Nursing Them to Health, says Justin Fox at Time. Enthusiasm for major overhaul was highest at the last G20 in April, Fox says. Now, the issue is that "for the past year financial regulators in the U.S. and Europe have been focused on bringing big banks to health--that is, making them more profitable." But winding down the industry as Geithner intends will cut right into those profits. "There's little time left to make this reversal," he says, "because if big financial regulatory reform doesn't happen in the next year or so, it may never happen."
- More Balance-Sheet Transparency Needed, says Matthew Goldstein at Reuters. He calls Geithner's plan a "good idea," but argues that to avert another crisis, "Regulators must also clamp down on the kind of AIG-engineered deals that legally enabled German, French, Dutch, Danish and other European banks to dodge existing capital rules and free up some $400 billion on their balance sheets."
- A Fix for Outsized Bonuses, argued the Atlantic's own Daniel Indiviglio. "First, it would help to reduce the competitive advantage of firms deemed too big to fail...Second, this might also be a partial solution to the bonus problem. It's the big banks who are generally responsible for those large Wall Street bonuses that have recently gotten so much attention. If big banks are required to have more capital, however, their profits will be lower."