Weil on Finance: What’s in the Volcker Rule?
Happy Friday, View fans. Here are your morning links.
I told you in a linksfest a few days ago that this would happen. Journalists are racing to come up with curtain-raisers about the Volcker rule without getting much in the way of any real information first. The Financial Times has a story, attributed to an unnamed Treasury Department official, saying the rule “will leave a grey area for regulators to police as they see fit,” as if this were some great revelation. Even when rules are black-and-white, regulators have discretion to enforce them as they see fit. Similarly, the Wall Street Journal had an anonymously sourced story the other day that said the Volcker rule won’t let banks use “portfolio hedging.” There was no way to tell from the article what that term will mean for purposes of the rule. (Talk about a grey area.) Best to just wait and see what the Volcker rule says when it comes out next week.
Reform in China’s P.R. industry means learning new ways to pay bribes to journalists
This is a wonderful article by Beijing-based Caixin Online about how recent scandals have thrown the country’s public-relations industry into turmoil. The reporter, He Chunmei, writes: “A P.R. consultant at a well-established company told me that in the past when she asked journalists to write advertorials all she had to do was transfer money to their bank accounts. Now she is being more circumspect.” So she just brings them the money in person instead. The story goes on: “Some involved surprisingly large amounts of money. For example, certain reporters publish a set amount of articles each month for a client of a P.R. company and get paid monthly. Transactions routinely exceed 10,000 yuan. Then there were reporters who tried to blackmail companies with negative stories that had some grain of truth. Other journalists just made up bad news and went about the blackmailing.”
Is BlackRock too big to fail?
Good piece here by the Economist: “For regulators that want not merely to prevent a repeat of the last blow-up but also to identify the sources of future systemic perils, BlackRock raises another, subtler issue, concerning not the ownership of assets but the way buying and selling decisions are made. The $15 trillion of assets managed on its Aladdin platform amount to around 7% of all the shares, bonds and loans in the world. As a result, those who oversee many of the world’s biggest pools of money are looking at the financial world, at least in part, through a lens crafted by BlackRock.”
A smart take on the Federal Reserve and interest rates
From Izabella Kaminska at the FT’s Alphaville blog: “The market vogue is to obsess about how the Fed is suppressing long-term rates. But for years now, FT Alphaville has been trying to explain why, in reality, Fed intervention is as much focused on propping up short-term rates (preventing them from falling through zero) as it is about keeping longer-term rate expectations anchored.” And she does a good job of explaining.
How bad have things gotten in Venezuela?
The bolivar is in freefall. Residents are desperate to buy U.S. dollars. So lacking any brighter ideas for how to respond to the country’s economic crisis, the government decided to block websites that track exchange rates on the black market. The Associated Press reports that government censors are “even targeting Bitly, the popular site for shortening Web addresses to make it easier to send them as links via Twitter and other social media,” apparently “because Bitly was being used to evade blocks put on currency-tracking websites.” Venezuela is starting to look like China.
(Jonathan Weil is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)