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Yellen says Fed will weigh compliance extension for Volcker rule

U.S. Federal Reserve Vice Chair Janet Yellen stands after testifying during a confirmation hearing on her nomination to be the next chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve before the Senate Banking Committee in Washington November 14, 2013. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve is weighing whether banks should get more time to comply with the Volcker rule, which bans them from trading with their own money, Federal Reserve Vice-Chair Janet Yellen said in a November 18 letter to a U.S. Senator.

"As it considers the merits of adopting a final rule, the Board will also consider the public interest in granting an extension of the conformance period," Yellen wrote to Mike Crapo, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee. She was responding to several follow-up questions Crapo asked from her November 14 confirmation hearing on her appointment to replace Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Yellen did not specify in her letter whether an extension will be granted, but noted that the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law does give the Fed some leeway because it permits regulators to grant banks up to three one-year extensions if necessary.

But her comments come at a critical time for the Fed and the four other regulators who have been working long hours to try and complete the rule before the end of the year.

The five banking and financial market regulators have been struggling to agree on a workable rule that will permit banks to continue engaging in healthy trading, while banning riskier activities.

The Fed, the other two banking regulators and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission are eyeing the week of December 9 for a final vote, while the Securities and Exchange Commission is mulling the week of December 16, two people familiar with the matter say.

However, the exact schedule is still not known, in part because the SEC's Democratic Commissioner Kara Stein and CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler have both raised concerns about the final draft of the rule, one of those people said.

Stein, who previously worked for Rhode Island Democratic Senator Jack Reed on the Senate Banking Committee, was a key Capitol Hill staffer during the drafting of the Dodd-Frank law.

She has raised some concerns internally, saying the final rule appears too weak and may not close potential loopholes, the person added.

Wall Street banks have long complained that the Volcker rule would eat into their profits and depress client trading. They are worried it would hamper legitimate activities that are beneficial to customers, such as market-making.

In the heady days before the financial crisis, large banks ran so-called proprietary trading desks that played financial markets to make money. But those desks have largely disappeared, even ahead of the rule's implementation.

(Editing by Dan Grebler)