The Message of Brown-Vitter

TheStreet.com

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Strange as it may be for you to read this, in a publication called TheStreet, the rest of the country doesn't like Wall Street.

We think you're crooks, that the game is rigged. Skepticism turned to cynicism after the 2008 financial crisis, when "too big to fail" banks were filled with bad assets, then propped up with government help to run back into the casino.

Since then, the big banks have been struggling to regain traction, while smaller banks have powered ahead. Wells Fargo has done well, but JP Morgan Chase still trades at a discount to its book value, while Bank of America and Citigroup trade at huge discounts to book. I wrote about this a few weeks ago.


Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were also made bank holding companies in the wake of the 2008 crisis. Together with the other four they make up a "big six" that are called "Wall Street" banks even though Bank of America is based in Charlotte and Wells Fargo in San Francisco. (For reference, here is a government list of the 50 biggest bank holding companies by assets.)

The Terminating Bailouts for Taxpayer Fairness Act, summarized by co-sponsor Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, would raise capital requirements on the six to protect against their failure. The other co-sponsor is Louisiana Republican David Vitter.


A draft of the bill, posted on Scribd by QuartzNews, shows it would impose a 15% capital requirement on these banks starting five years after the bill's publication. The expectation is that the banks would break up into smaller institutions to avoid the requirement. "I don't want you to talk Mr. Bond. I want you to die," as was said in the film Goldfinger, available on YouTube.

Wall Street is "hair on fire" over the proposal, with Standard & Poor's warning it could force it to downgrade the affected banks. American Banker editorialized , in effect, to "give Dodd-Frank a chance."

That argument doubtless caused some coffee spills over at the Independent Community Bankers Association , which supports the bill, because big bank opposition is the reason two-thirds of the Dodd-Frank rules have yet to be written.

For investors, however, Brown-Vitter might unlock substantial value. All the banks listed by Forbes as America's "best banks" trade at a substantial premium to book.

Since the crisis, old-fashioned banking has come back in fashion. Loaning money for more than you pay for it turns out to be a better business model than running to the casino -- who knew?

The bill comes up just as the big banks are trying to get bigger on Main Street, expanding their branch networks in major markets, running ads talking about how friendly they are to small business. Yet it forces these same banks to argue that high capital requirements, or a break-up, would hobble them in competition with other large global institutions. See the contradiction?

The bill may be a non-starter, but it's a great reminder that, regardless of what the financial networks and big financial sites based in New York may think about Wall Street, the rest of the country has neither forgiven nor forgotten what went on in the last decade.

You can wipe off that grin, I know where you've been, it's all been a pack of lies, as Phil Collins wrote 35 years ago in a song about his first divorce, "In the Air Tonight." It's pretty much how much of America feels about the big banks. It's a bipartisan feeling.

That's the message of Brown-Vitter.

At the time of publication, the author had no investments in the six big banks mentioned here.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

It's Official: Action Alerts PLUS beats the S&P 500 with Dividends Reinvested! Cramer and Link were up 16.72% in 2012. Were you? See what they are trading for 14-days FREE.

Rates

View Comments (0)

Recommended for You