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Volcker: Stop big bank risk-taking

Jan. 31, 2010 at 11:56 AM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Reforms are needed urgently to bar big commercial banks from engaging in risky investments and trading, a top White House adviser says.

Paul Volcker, former Federal Reserve chairman and chairman of President Barack Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, said in an opinion piece published in Sunday's New York Times that "structural reforms" are needed that would require the biggest commercial banks to spin off their investment and brokerage divisions.

Such bank activities, widely blamed for causing the financial crisis, have stretched the government "safety net" for institutions deemed "too big to fail," Volcker said.

"The long-established 'safety net' undergirding the stability of commercial banks -- deposit insurance and lender of last resort facilities -- has been both reinforced and extended in a series of ad hoc decisions to support investment banks, mortgage providers and the world's largest insurance company.

"In the process," Volcker wrote, "managements, creditors and to some extent stockholders of these non-banks have been protected."

Big banks should be restricted from "ownership or sponsorship of hedge funds and private equity funds, and proprietary trading -- that is, placing bank capital at risk in the search of speculative profit rather than in response to customer needs," he said.

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