U.S. Said Poised to Label MetLife Systemically ImportantIan Katz and Robert Schmidt
A U.S. council of regulators is poised to label MetLife Inc. a potential threat to the financial system, subjecting the insurer to oversight by the Federal Reserve, two people with knowledge of the matter said.
A decision by the Financial Stability Oversight Council may come as early as July 31, when the panel is tentatively planning to meet, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the process isn’t public. The vote could be delayed briefly because the council hasn’t formally closed its review of the company, the people said.
MetLife, the biggest U.S. life insurer, could be subjected to stricter capital, leverage and liquidity requirements as a result of Fed supervision. The company has been under consideration as systemically important for more than a year, and its executives have met more than 10 times with council staff members to argue it doesn’t pose a risk.
John Calagna, a spokesman for New York-based MetLife, and Suzanne Elio, a Treasury spokeswoman, declined to comment. The council’s rules prohibit it from disclosing the names of companies unless a designation is made.
MetLife shares were little changed at $55.50 yesterday, after earlier falling as much as 1.8 percent.
The council vote would be a proposed designation, and MetLife would have 30 days to request a hearing before the FSOC to contest the decision. After a hearing, the regulators would hold a final vote on whether to designate MetLife. The company reports earnings after the market closing July 30 and will hold an investor call July 31, the same day the FSOC is planning to meet.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew is chairman of the council, whose 10 voting members also include the heads of the Fed, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
The council has designated three non-bank financial companies systemically important: insurers American International Group Inc. and Prudential Financial Inc., and General Electric Co.’s finance arm. A two-thirds vote, including Lew’s, is required.
“It is difficult to imagine that AIG, MET or PRU would be short on capital in any reasonable scenario, although there is some risk that share buybacks could be constrained,” Jay Gelb, an analyst at Barclays Plc, said in a July 17 note to investors, using ticker symbols for the insurers.
Prudential requested an oral hearing after the council proposed designating it systemically important in June 2013. The hearing was held the following month, and the FSOC held its final vote to designate the insurer in September 2013. AIG and GE Capital didn’t request hearings.
MetLife, led by Chief Executive Officer Steven Kandarian, has insisted that it isn’t systemically important and wouldn’t pose a risk to the broader financial system even if it were to fail. The insurer didn’t take a bailout during the 2008 financial crisis.
Kandarian told investors June 10 that it was too early to know exactly what a systemic designation would mean for his company. Regulators “could still come up with draft rules that we would find reasonable or come up with draft rules that maybe we wouldn’t find as reasonable,” he said.
Republicans in Congress are proposing legislation that they say would increase the council’s transparency. The lawmakers say the FSOC should advise companies earlier when they are being discussed at council meetings.
At a June 24 hearing before the House Financial Services Committee, Lew asserted that the FSOC is transparent and said critics who call it opaque are “simply wrong.”
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