Derivatives Regulation Has Loopholes

Wall Street's biggest banks aren't just back to handing out fat bonuses. They're also engaged in a stealth lobbying effort to keep one of their main sources of profits—derivatives—free of government control. These are the unregulated financial instruments, like credit default swaps, that helped cause the crash. To take the heat off itself, the banking industry has stood aside as a newly formed group, the Coalition for Derivatives End-Users, fights efforts to curb the use of exotic securities. The group includes Wall Street's biggest corporate customers, from Apple to Whirlpool, organized by the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Business Roundtable. The lobbying met with some success last week, finding support among Wall Street–friendly "new Dems." The House Financial Services Committee passed a bill that its chairman, Rep. Barney Frank, said would force "large numbers" of derivatives trades to be done on open and regulated exchanges. But critics like Gary Gensler, chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, say the bill has too many loopholes allowing hedge funds, private-equity funds, and other financial firms to escape regulation by exploiting an exemption meant for corporations. While Gensler toughened portions of the bill, he is also worried that it allows privately run clearinghouses controlled by Wall Street to operate without CFTC review, keeping large parts of the market out of public view. A Frank spokesperson cautions that the bill isn't law yet and there will be further refinements.

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