Economic Outlook: The new rule

By ANTHONY HALL, United Press International  |  Feb. 3, 2010 at 7:55 AM
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A man seemingly ignored by Washington took center stage in the regulatory reform debate Tuesday, discussing a rule that bears his name -- the Volcker rule.

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, now the chairman of the president's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, is a venerated name in economic policy who was subject to many a newspaper clipping a year ago of how his learned opinions were being drowned out by the new team in Washington. He was given an honorary post, an office way beyond the beltway in New York and earned himself a headline or two, mostly concerning how he was being politely ignored.

On Tuesday, Volcker addressed the Senate Banking Committee and schooled the Senate's financial brain trust, telling committee members the public had protective instinct when it involved essential banking functions, but had little interest in protecting high rollers on Wall Street.

"There has been, and remains, a strong public interest in providing a safety net ... for commercial banks carrying out essential services. There is not, however, a similar rationale for public funds -- taxpayer funds -- protecting and supporting essentially proprietary and speculative activities," Volcker said.

Protecting consumer capital and protecting sanctioned casinos are two very different things, Volcker said.

That simple distinction seemed to go over well among committee members, but there is always politics to consider.

Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., took some acerbic shots a the White House for not providing clear enough details on the proposal and several complained of the timing of the proposal to ban commercial banks from proprietary lending, which was made shortly after Massachusetts voters filled the late Ted Kennedy's critical senate seat with a Republican.

The timing of the announcement appeared "political" said Dodd, who has announced he will retire when his term runs out, The Wall Street Journal said. With that in mind, he has his own venerable stature to protect and Dodd added, "I don't want to go to the floor of the United States Senate begging for a 60th vote," for a reform package that his committee has already sculpted for months.

On Wall Street, stock markets surged Tuesday for the second consecutive trading day with pending home sales up just a pinch and U.S. automakers Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. announcing January sales surged in part due to a recall fiasco at Toyota Motor Co. that involves 2.3 million vehicles in the United States.

Toyota, where sales dropped 16 percent in the month, could not shake troubles, despite an announcement it had a fix for the sticky gas pedal problem. On Wednesday, The New York Times reported the Japanese government had ordered the company to investigate a brake problem with the Prius, a model not involved in the earlier recall.

In international markets Wednesday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan rose 0.32 percent, while the Shanghai composite index surged 2.36 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong rose 2.22 percent, while the Sensex in India rose 2.06 percent.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.92 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 in Britain rose 0.26 percent, while the DAX 30 in Germany rose 0.15 percent. The CAC 40 in France rose 0.35 percent, while the pan-European DJ Stoxx 50 added 0.05 percent.

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