Congressman Andy Barr Stacks a Hearing on the Fed’s Stress Tests with Lobbyists for Megabanks

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: June 27, 2024 ~

Congressman Andy Barr

Congressman Andy Barr Delivering Opening Remarks at a Stress Test Hearing on June 26, 2024

Yesterday the House Financial Institutions and Monetary Policy Subcommittee held a hearing titled “Stress Testing: What’s Inside the Black Box?” The hearing was convened to examine the manner in which the Federal Reserve conducts its stress tests of the megabanks. The witnesses called to testify included the following: an employee of the Financial Services Forum, a registered lobbyist for  banks; an employee of the Bank Policy Institute, a registered lobbyist for banks; Jonathan Gould, a lawyer from Jones Day, whose clients are banks; and one lonely soul, Greg Feldberg, Research Director of the Yale Program on Financial Stability, who was the only credible voice on the witness panel.

The Chair of this Subcommittee is Andy Barr, a Republican from Kentucky whose largest four campaign donors are the following: employees of the Wall Street private equity firms Apollo Global Management and Blackstone Group; Wall Street-connected venture capital firm and a major political donor, Andreesen Horowitz; employees and the Political Action Committee of JPMorgan Chase, the five-count felony megabank on Wall Street that is leading the charge to gut federal regulatory proposals for higher capital at the high risk megabanks.

Barr began the hearing with an opening statement that closely tracked the arguments that were about to be made by his three witnesses tied to Wall Street banking. Those witnesses proceeded to attack the Fed for the secrecy of its models used to conduct the stress tests and to lobby for putting the models out for public comment. Feldberg, the Yale researcher, said this: “The banks spend a great deal of money trying to reverse engineer the stress tests. And don’t think they do that for any other reason than trying to game the process. They can do a pretty good job of reverse engineering because they already get more information about the stress test models than any other country gives their banks.”

Bolstering Feldberg’s argument, the Fed announced yesterday that all 31 banks it had stress tested had passed the tests.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Questioning Witness at House Hearing on Stress Tests, June 26, 2024

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Questioning a Witness at House Hearing on Stress Tests, June 26, 2024

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, a Democrat from Massachusetts, was one of the last members of the Subcommittee to speak. She summed up the hearing like this:

“Again, deregulation is a failed approach. Yet, bank lobbyists are continuing to push for less stringent oversight. My colleagues across the aisle are working with big banks to publicly reveal the mechanics behind stress testing. This is not a pro-transparency, good governance argument. They simply want to help banks game the system and circumvent oversight.”

Anticipating this rigged hearing, the nonprofit watchdog group, Better Markets, released a 13-page detailed analysis of how the Fed’s stress tests have already been weakened and have reduced Americans’ confidence in the U.S. banking system.

One of the many important points made by Better Markets is that the Fed eliminated its qualitative assessment of banks which was originally in the stress tests. Better Markets writes:

“Weaknesses in bank practices that are reviewed during the qualitative assessment, particularly those supporting risk measurement and data integrity, can undermine the Fed’s supervisory stress test because the Fed uses information it receives from the banks as inputs. . . .

“The Fed could object to the bank’s planned capital payouts under the qualitative assessment. This was known as the ‘qualitative objection,’ which was publicly disclosed in an annual announcement that outlined the reasons for the objection and could lead to temporary restrictions on a bank’s ability to make capital distributions to investors, restrictions that could remain in place until the bank fixed its weak practices.”

With the qualitative assessment removed, it is no wonder that megabank JPMorgan Chase can face charges of laundering money for international child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein; keeping two sets of books; admitting to rigging the U.S. Treasury market and precious metals markets; and secretly owning a sprawling network of oil and gas assets and power plants – while still sailing through the Fed’s stress test.

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