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Feb 12
2010

Blackstone’s Schwarzman: Free the bankers!

Posted by MQuinn in RegulationlendingDealscomplianceCashBlackstoneBanks

MQuinn

It's probably safe to say that we're all a little ticked about how long the financial regulatory reform process is taking. And Blackstone Group chief executive Stephen Schwarzman is right there with us.

But it's not so much because he's eager for fundamental change, though he admits change is needed across the financial landscape, not just banks.

Rather, the private equity magnate is worried that all this dilly-dallying is keeping banks from moving forward and lending.

"Predictably, bankers are reacting to this unprecedented uncertainty by becoming conservative and cautious," he wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post Thursday. "The result is that there is less lending and less credit available."

Lending, of course, is the key to our economic recovery continuing, according to Schwarzman.

However, I've written before that credit availability isn't the only thing keeping businesses from borrowing. Non-banking businesses are really the ones being cautious and conservative when it comes to the nascent recovery. Indeed, we've seen in the last few Federal Reserve loan officer surveys that loan demand has weakened.

Another not-so-funny thing about all this is that many banks have demonstrated that they don't need to lend or make credit available to be wildly profitable. Just look at Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan Chase. Heck, lending is what got them in to this mess. Loan loss provisions were the major red mark on Chase's earnings in the fourth quarter

If you're getting essentially free money from the Federal Reserve, why exactly would you tie it up in messy loans? Lending was fine -- great even -- when you could package those loans and get them off the balance sheet. Not so fine when you're stuck servicing them.

And as far as becoming cautious and conservative, Citigroup, of all banks, is talking about offering liquidity derivatives

That doesn't sound like a bank afraid to move forward.

Schwarzman is right in his basic premise: the debate over regulatory reform has gone on long enough and reform cannot just be aimed at banks alone.

But we cannot handcuff ourselves into thinking that making nice with the banks will unlock the doors to credit.

Comments (3)Add Comment
William C.
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written by William C., February 12, 2010
A scathing takedown of the Schwarzman op-ed over at Naked Capitalism:

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2010/02/schwartzman-says-kowtow-to-banks-or-they-will-strangle-the-economy.html

Anne Field
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written by Anne Field, February 12, 2010
By the way, the word "uncertainty"--that is, that uncertainty about a supposed glut of new policies is impairing business growth--is the current talking point of the Republican party. So, it's no surprise Schwarzman was using that term as the centerpiece of his argument. Do a google search and I'm sure you'll see tons of quotes from Republicans parroting the same talking point. Another example of media manipulation with much of the media blissfully allowing it to happen.
Matthew Quinn
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written by Matthew Quinn, February 12, 2010
You're right, Anne. Their solution to this "uncertainty" isn't to offer up solid, clear remedies. Rather, it's to leave everything the same as it was before. I wrote yesterday about all the warnings over "unintended consequences," which is just a bunch of fear-mongering to preserve the status quo.

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