Thursday, January 14, 2010

What the Financial Crisis Commission Should Ask

* This one is for the entire group. All of your firms are involved in some form of proprietary trading, or using your own capital to make financial bets, not unlike hedge funds and other private investors. As the recent crisis has shown, these bets can go catastrophically wrong and endanger the global financial system.

Given that the government sent a clear signal in the crisis that it would not let the biggest firms fail, why should taxpayers guarantee this sort of trading? Why should the government backstop what amounts to giant hedge funds inside the walls of your firms? How is such trading helpful to the broader financial system?

* A question for all the executives about bonuses: We keep hearing that you plan to pay out billions in bonuses this year. Given that they come out of profits that, to a large degree, seem to be the result of government programs to prop up and stimulate the banking sector, do you think they are deserved, even if they are in stock? And, while we're on the topic, given the market crisis of 2008, were you all overpaid in 2007?

* Again, for the group: Over the last year, your firms have actively used the Federal Reserve's discount window to exchange various investments (including C.D.O.'s) for cash. You probably have a better idea than most about what those assets now sitting on the Fed's balance sheet are worth.

Given the growing calls for regular audits of the Fed (an idea being resisted by the likes of the chairman, Ben Bernanke), do you think the demands for such audits are warranted?

* This question is for Mr. Mack. In November, in a surprisingly candid moment, you publicly declared, "Regulators have to be much more involved." You then added, "We cannot control ourselves." Can you elaborate on those comments? Is Wall Street inherently incapable of policing itself — a view contrary to what most of your peers have argued?

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