The Dodd-Frank financial reform act, the law designed to clean up the abuses that led to the financial crisis, celebrates its third birthday this month. But only about a third of the rules required by the legislation have been finalized so far, and even those are not going into effect as scheduled. This week provided a perfect example of why that is: The Federal Reserve granted Goldman Sachs a two-year extension to implement a key Dodd-Frank rule that would require banks to move risky trading into separate affiliates that are not backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Several other of the nation's biggest banks won the same exemption last month.
Financial reformers are not shocked. "Quelle surprise!" quips Bart Naylor, a policy advocate at the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. "The Federal Reserve decides to heed the crush of Wall Street lobbyists."
The Dodd-Frank rule, which Goldman Sachs was supposed to implement by July 16, requires FDIC-insured banks to move most of their derivatives trades into separate firms so that when a trade goes bad the bank will have to handle the fallout, not taxpayers. (Derivatives are financial products with values derived from underlying variables, like crop prices or interest rates; they were a major catalyst in the economic meltdown of 2008.) In its request for an extension, Goldman told the Federal Reserve—the main overseer of derivatives dealers—that complying with the deadline would mean the firm would need to either divest or stop a big portion of its swaps trading; a transition period, Goldman said, would be needed to ensure that the rest of the economy is not damaged by the shift. On Tuesday, the Fed agreed.