Friday, May 08, 2009

NY Fed Chairman Stephen Friedman's "Insider-Type" Trading

From reading Simon Johnson's BaselineScenario blog today it looks like Goldman Sachs' man at the NY Federal Reserve may be guilty of an offense that sent Martha Stewart (among others) to jail. Will he get away with it?:
The idea of a stress test, of course, is to see what goes wrong under pressure. We do this for banks with hypothetical scenarios, but when you go to see the cardiologist you need to step on a treadmill and actually get your heart rate up. The stress test for bankers is very relevant for thinking about our future financial system in three ways:

1.We are now seeing how they behaved during a boom, both in terms of compensation system and insider-type transactions.
2.We can see what happened during a crash and attempted recovery; part of which is about massive taxpayer provided subsidies (do the bankers even have the manners to say thank you?) and much of which is about tilting the playing field towards pre-provision earnings (for which Jan Hatzius of Goldman has the most eloquent exposition).
3.Most interesting, of course, is how bankers think. They regard themselves as entitled to outsized compensation that encourages excessive risk taking. They think that insider trading rules apply to other people. And they are convinced that only they – and their friends – are capable of running government in boom or bust (or in ways that boom leads to bust, at which time you buy low and then recover through large implicit support from the government.)

Really what we have seen over the past two years (a great Freudian slip from the Comptroller of the Currency on NPR last night) is a stress test of our bankers. If you think they basically did fine, then we can go about our business with essentially the same financial system that has developed in the last couple of decades.

If you have concerns about how they behaved and the potential consequences of such behavior down the road, then we need to talk further. The banks passed their stress tests, in part because these were designed by bankers and people friendly to bankers (we could also think about how our regulators have done over the past two years). But are the bankers passing their stress tests?
Also this tidbit, from today's Wall Street Journal profile:
Mr. Friedman preferred to keep a lower profile than Mr. Rubin, leading some analysts to refer to him as Goldman's "Mr. Inside."