WSJ reports on “Paulson Plan”

The WSJ reported this morning that Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson will unveil an overhaul to the regulatory system for the financial markets on Monday. This should be very interesting. One of the provisions in the article calls for a Federal system for state monitored mortgage companies.

Here is the article:

Sweeping Changes in Paulson Plan
March 29, 2008

WASHINGTON — U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson plans on Monday to call for sweeping structural changes in the way the government monitors financial markets, capping a broad review aimed at revamping a system of regulatory oversight built piecemeal since the Civil War.

If all the changes get made, they would represent a complete reworking of the U.S. regulatory system for finance. Such an outcome would likely take years and would also require major compromises from an increasingly partisan Congress. The proposal, obtained by The Wall Street Journal, is likely to trigger messy feuds over turf at a time when confidence in government supervision is low.

Even so, the blueprint could be a guide for future action. Senior Democrats have expressed in recent weeks that they also believe the regulatory system should be overhauled, potentially paving the way for possible deals.

Mr. Paulson’s plan will include merging some agencies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, while broadening the authority of others, such as the Federal Reserve, which appears to be a winner under the proposal. Mr. Paulson is expected to recommend that the central bank play a greater role as a “market stability regulator,” with broader authority over all financial market participants.

Mr. Paulson is also expected to call for the Office of Thrift Supervision, which regulates federal thrifts, to be phased out within two years and merged with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates national banks. One reason is that there is very little difference these days between federal thrifts and national banks.

The Treasury plan has been in the works since last year but has taken on greater prominence since the onset of the housing crisis and ensuing credit crunch. Critics have blamed lax regulation at both the state and federal level for exacerbating the crisis.

A key part of the blueprint is aimed at fixing lapses in mortgage oversight. Mr. Paulson plans to call for the creation of a new entity, called the Mortgage Origination Commission, according to an outline of the Treasury Department’s plan, which was first reported by the New York Times. This new entity would create licensing standards for state mortgage companies. This commission, which would include representatives from the Fed and other agencies, would scrutinize the way states oversee mortgage origination.

Also related to mortgages, Mr. Paulson is expected to call for federal laws to be “clarified and enhanced,” resolving any jurisdictional issues that exist between state or federal supervisors. Many of the problems in the housing market stemmed from loans offered by state-licensed companies. Federal regulators, too, were slow to create safeguards that could have banned some of these practices.

Mr. Paulson is expected to repeat his assertion that the Fed should have much more access to information from securities firms and investment banks that might borrow money from the central bank.

Presently, insurance is regulated on a state-by-state basis, but the Treasury review is expected to call for the creation of an optional federal insurance charter that would be overseen by a new Office of National Insurance. Such an idea has been floated for years but never directly endorsed by Treasury.

In addition to some of the short- and medium-term changes, Treasury officials have also designed what they believe to be an “optimal structure” of financial oversight. It would create a single class for federally insured banks and thrifts, rather than the multiple versions that now exist. It would also create a single class of federally regulated insurance companies and a federal financial-services provider for other types of financial institutions.

A market stability regulator, which would likely be the Fed, would have broad powers over all three types of companies. A new regulator, called the Prudential Financial Regulatory Agency, would oversee the financial regulation of the insurance and federally insured banks. Another regulator, the Business Regulatory Agency, would oversee business conduct at all the companies.

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