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Economic Outlook: Business as Usual

Anthony Hall

With regulatory reform for U.S. banks looming,
why is it that some of the largest Wall Street firms are expanding
their hedge fund operations?

This might be a question you find somewhere on Twitter. To backtrack
a bit, one of the bluntest measures in the 3,000 pages of legislation
handed to a joint House and Senate committee doing fine-tuning on the
reform bill is the so-called Volcker Rule that is meant to prevent
banks from engaging in proprietary trading and owning private equities
and hedge funds.

The gambit is simple: A federally insured bank is not expected to
take risks with their own funds when the risk also puts depositor money
in jeopardy.

The rule, named after former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker,
now a White House adviser, was one of the two items in the bill that
came closest to limiting the size of banks, the other being a move for
banks to spin off their swap desks. But JP Morgan Chase, while the
joint committee worked out differences between the House and Senate
versions of the bill, said it was undeterred it its pursuit of asset
management firm Gavea Investment, and Citigroup is doggedly marching
forward with plans to expand Citi Capital Advisors.

spokeswoman Danielle Romero-Apsilos said, "the final outcome" of the
regulatory bill was "currently unclear," but banks clearly believe they
can sidestep, redefine or use last-minute persuasion to water down the
Volcker Rule and are barging ahead with a business-as-usual mindset,
backed by lobbyists and lawyers and a tradition of headstrong defiance.

Banking industry
attorney Richard Schetman at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft was
already carving out his legal hedge on the issue. "The actual
legislation is pretty vague in a lot of important ways," he told The
New York Times.

With a less partisan approach, "Wall Street has always been very
skilled at getting around rules, and this law will be no exception.
Once you open up the door just a crack, Wall Street shoves the door
open and runs right through it," said Frank Partnoy, a professor of law
at the University of San Diego.


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In the boardrooms of New York, bankers
are planning their approaches for how to squirm around the vagaries of
the final bill and maintain their revenue streams. At the same time,
lobbyists are pressing for exclusions to the bill and have likely
already won a seven-year delay before some provisions are put into
effect, the Times reported Monday.

Markets in Asia turned higher Monday after the Peoples Bank of China
said it would allow the renminbi (or yuan) greater flexibility, after
which it rose to the highest level against the dollar in almost two

Some say the peg to the U.S. dollar has kept the renminbi 20 percent
or more under its true market value, and analysts said China would
likely allow it to appreciate between 2 percent and 5 percent this
year. But that strengthens China's domestic market and helps foreign
businesses with a presence there, and exporters to China as well.

In market movement Monday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan rose 2.43
percent and the Shanghai composite index added 2.9 percent. The Hang
Seng index in Hong Kong rose 3.08 percent and the Sensex in India rose
1.74 percent.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 rose 1.33 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 in Britain rose 1.04
percent, while the DAX 30 in Germany added 1.41 percent. The CAC 40 in
France gained 1.63 percent, while the pan-European DJ Stoxx 50 rose 1.3

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