Lewitt lambasts toxic financial products, calls Volcker plan weak

February 08, 2010  

The opinionated veteran investor says that the government's efforts to target weak reforms at banks that are considered "too big to fail" ignores the risks posed by the continued existence of toxic financial products.

Harch Capital Management chief Michael Lewitt is back with another trenchant social commentary wrapped around a macroeconomic analysis. He attacks the Obama administration for failing to address systemic risks in the financial system, calling the plan pitched by former Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker too weak.

He also suggests sending the leadership of the Democratic party back home (away from Washington), and castigates the Securities and Exchange Commission for ignoring its real responsibility to protect investors by focusing on such distractions as whether companies should have to disclose the risk of climate change to their operations. "While they are at it, why shouldn’t they advise companies to start warning investors about the possible effects of a meteorite hitting the earth?" Lewitt asks. "It is probably too much to hope that any such extraterrestrial mercy killing could be arranged for an agency that is still having trouble figuring out its own mission."

Here's an excerpt from Lewitt's February 1 letter. The full text is available by subscription at hcmmarketletter.com.

Moreover, just as with the tax on banks, the Volcker Plan misses the point, which should be to legislate the financial products that cause damage, such as naked credit default swaps. Moreover, this legislation promotes the fantasy that something can actually be done to prevent firms from growing "too big to fail" when it is virtually impossible to do so without placing limits on such products. You could cut down to size the largest firms in the world, but if they are all still trading toxic products with each other and are thereby still interconnected, the system would still be at risk if one of them failed because the entire system would only be as strong as its weakest link. It is not a question of individual firms being "too big to fail"; products such as credit default swaps effectively turn the entire system into the equivalent of a single firm that is too big to fail! That is why the products must be regulated. The proper approach is to significantly strengthen capital requirements AND eliminate toxic products, as I argue in my forthcoming book, The Death of Capital (publication date early May 2010). There can be little quarrel with the argument promulgated by Paul Volcker that banks should not be trading with depositors’ funds, but that begs the question of the systemic risks they still pose by trading toxic products with their own capital.

Some previous AR coverage of Lewitt:

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