Audit Notes: An NYT Dud on Regulators; A Good Day for M&I; FT on AIG; HuffPo on Mortgages, etc.

—Dean Baker is right to criticize the Times story this morning that reported on talks to set up a financial systemic-risk regulator.

Like my fellow Dean, I find this passage just dreadful:

The issue is one of the most fundamental in the contentious effort to overhaul regulation after the financial crisis, and addresses one of the primary lessons of the near debacle: that no one had been assigned to ensure the stability of the system as a whole and detect the kinds of excessive risk-taking and imbalances that could rock an entire economy.

This buys hook-line-and-sinker into the extreme regulatory copout—the fandango of federal flummery—that has been going on in government regulatory circles since the Great Crash of ‘08. No one had “been assigned”? What is this, junior high?

Brother Dean outlines earlier occasions when the Fed acted exactly like a systemic risk regulator. The idea that financial regulators didn’t have the authority to monitor the system is—at best—highly debatable and shouldn’t be presented as fact.

This reminds me of the bogus idea proffered by bank regulators that because there were both state and federal bank regulators, predatory lending fell through the cracks somehow. Don’t you believe it. I deal with that here and here.

—Two good WSJ Money & Investing stories: One keeps close tabs on the status of so-called placement agents, the go-betweens hired by money managers to help get business from state pension funds. Placement agents have been involved in pay-to-play scandals from New York to California. And this is a terrific story by Kara Scannell and Dan Fitzpatrick about the SEC and Cuomo facing off over whether BoA fired a general counsel because he was warning the bank to disclose its ballooning losses or, more innocently, to make way for another executive, Brian Moynihan, who is now the bank’s CEO. The SEC accepts the more innocent explanation. The dispute is part of a larger question of whether a federal judge should accept the SEC’s $150 million settlement with the bank or go to trial.

—The Journal has hit the cyber-attack beat pretty hard and scored a get on foreign hackers busting into U.S. corporate and government systems. The story forced the competition to chase it pretty hard.

—The FT’s Francesco Guerrera picks up a nice get, reporting that AIG is shelving a plan to sell all of its derivatives portfolio and may keep up to $500 billion worth. This is a good thing because it means our insurance company doesn’t sell assets at fire sale prices and can benefit from rallying credit markets, we’re told. Good to keep an eye on that.

—Huffington Post’s Shahien Nasiripour adds helpful analysis of the numbers from the Obama administration’s efforts to stem foreclosures. One in five eligible homeowners are benefiting, which I guess is okay, but the number of homeowners entering the program is falling, so the trends are heading in the wrong direction.

—I like this Steven Greenhouse story in the Times on the Feds cracking down on companies who pretend employees are “contractors,” allowing the employers to avoid paying “Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance taxes.” Not to mention get a leg up on competitors that do the right thing, and pay benefits, too, for that matter.

Speaking of which, BeyondChron, an alt site in San Francisco, writes about the dearth of labor reporting, a serious issue. (h/t Chris Roush.)

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Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.