Citi’s Parsons Blames Glass-Steagall Repeal for Crisis

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Editor’s Comment: So here we have one of the guys that was part of the team that overturned Glass-Steagal saying that their success led to the failure of our financial system. But then he says it is too late to change what we have done. It is not too late and if we are ever going to correct the financial system and hence the economy, we need to fix what we have done — separate the banks back into investment banks that take risks and commercial banks that are supposed to minimize risks. Instead we have a system where there is a virtually unlimited supply of other people’s money in the form of deposits and taxpayer bailouts that is the engine for leading what is left of the financial system into another ditch, this one deeper and worse.

Think about it. The banks are reporting record profits while the rest of us are experiencing record problems. That means that the banks are reporting gargantuan profits trading paper based upon economies that are in a nose-dive. How is that possible. We have less commerce (buying and selling) and more money being made by banks trading paper to each other. Or is this simply money laundering — bringing back and repatriating the money they stole in the mortgage meltdown and paying little or no tax?

Parsons Blames Glass-Steagall Repeal for Crisis

By Kim Chipman and Christine Harper 

Richard Parsons, speaking two days after ending his 16-year tenure on the board of Citigroup Inc. (C) and a predecessor, said the financial crisis was partly caused by a regulatory change that permitted the company’s creation.

The 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall law that separated banks from investment banks and insurers made the business more complicated, Parsons said yesterday at a Rockefeller Foundation event in Washington. He served as chairman of Citigroup, the third-biggest U.S. bank by assets, from 2009 until handing off the role to Michael O’Neill at the April 17 annual meeting.

A Citigroup Inc. Citibank. Photographer: Dado Galdieri/Bloomberg

April 20 (Bloomberg) — Bloomberg’s Erik Schatzker and Stephanie Ruhle report that Richard Parsons, speaking two days after ending his 16-year tenure on the board of Citigroup Inc. and a predecessor, said the financial crisis was partly caused by a regulatory change that permitted the company’s creation. They speak on Bloomberg Television’s “Inside Track.” (Source: Bloomberg)

“To some extent what we saw in the 2007, 2008 crash was the result of the throwing off of Glass-Steagall,” Parsons, 64, said during a question-and-answer session. “Have we gotten our arms around it yet? I don’t think so because the financial- services sector moves so fast.”

The 1998 merger of Citicorp and Sanford I. Weill’s Travelers Group Inc. depended on the U.S. government overturning the portion of the Depression-era act that required banks to be separate from capital-markets businesses like Travelers’ Salomon Smith Barney Holdings Inc. Parsons, who was president of Time Warner Inc. (TWX) at the time, had been a member of the Citicorp board before joining the board of the newly created Citigroup.

“Why didn’t he do something about it when he had a chance to?” Mike Mayo, an analyst at CLSA in New York who rates Citigroup shares “underperform,” said in a phone interview. “He’s a couple days out the door and he’s publicly criticizing the ability to manage the company.”

‘Dynamic World’

Unlike John S. Reed, the former Citicorp CEO who said in 2009 that he regretted working to overturn Glass-Steagall, Parsons said he didn’t think that the barriers can be rebuilt.

“We are going to have to figure out how to manage in this new and dynamic world because there are good and sufficient business reasons for putting these things together,” Parsons said. “It’s just that the ability to manage what we have built isn’t up to our capacity to do it yet.”

Parsons didn’t refer to Citigroup specifically during his comments and Shannon Bell, a spokeswoman for the bank in New York, declined to comment. Mayo said Parsons’ comments show he views the New York-based bank as “too big to manage.”

“This gives more support to the new chairman to take more radical action,” said Mayo, whose book “Exile on Wall Street” was critical of Parsons and the management of banks including Citigroup. “Citigroup needs to be reduced in size whether that’s breaking up or additional asset sales or whatever it takes.”

‘Separate Houses’

Parsons said in a phone interview after the event that it was difficult to find executives who could run retail banks and investment banks in the U.S. because the two businesses had been separated by Glass-Steagall for about 60 years.

“One of the things we faced when we tried to find new leadership for Citi, there wasn’t anybody who had deep employment experience in both sides of what theretofore had been separate houses,” he said. Chief Executive Officer Vikram Pandit is trying to change that, Parsons said. “I think if you ask Vikram he’d say probably his biggest challenge long-term is developing the management.”

Banks are growing because corporations and other clients want them to, and management must meet the challenge, he said.

U.S. Bailout

“People have a sort of a notion that ‘well, we can decide that’s too big to manage,’” he said. “But it got that way because there was a market need and institutions find and follow the needs of the marketplace. So what we have to do is we have to learn how to improve our ability to manage it and manage it more effectively.”

Citigroup, which took the most government aid of any U.S. bank during the financial crisis, has lost 86 percent of its value in the past four years, twice as much as the 24-company KBW Bank Index. (BKX) Most shareholders voted this week against the bank’s compensation plan, which awarded Pandit about $15 million in total pay for 2011, when the shares fell 44 percent.

Shareholders’ views shouldn’t be “given the same level of weight” as those of the board and management, Parsons said. Companies “shouldn’t make the mistake of putting them in the driver’s seat.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Kim Chipman in Washington at kchipman@bloomberg.net; Christine Harper in New York at charper@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Colleen McElroy at cmcelroy@bloomberg.net; David Scheer at dscheer@bloomberg.net.

 

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