A Return to Old-Time Religion? The Glass-Steagall Act, the Volcker Rule, Limits on Proprietary Trading, and Sustainability

34 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2014

See all articles by Douglas M. Branson

Douglas M. Branson

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law (Emeritus)

Date Written: October 14, 2014


Pursuant to directions contained in the Dodd-Frank Act (2010), five federal agencies collaborated to produce a 983 page rule limiting proprietary trading by financial institutions (the Volcker Rule, which becomes effective in summer, 2015). The Volcker Rule limits proprietary trading to no more than 3 percent of “Tier One” assets. The hoped for effects are that financial institutions will be strictly limited in trading for their own accounts. Some say, propelled by unbridled greed, U.S. financial institutions borrowed excessive amounts of money, inflating leverage ratios as high as 36 or 40 to 1, using the borrowed funds to engage in proprietary trading. When returns on those investments decreased due to the real estate crisis, most financial firms could not de-leverage fast enough. Three of the “Big Five” effectively failed as did Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac as well as others. This article reviews the history from the early 1930s to the present day. It parses the Volcker Rule, making clear that the Volcker Rule stops far short of re-instituting a Glass-Steagall separation of commercial and investment banking. The last question, asked but not answered, is should Congress re-enact such a separation, as Senators Elizabeth Warren and John McCain have urged? Or is the Volcker Rule sufficient to revive the milieu when bankers and brokers concentrated on making money for their clients rather than concentrating on making money for themselves.

Keywords: Glass-Steagall Act, Volcker Rule, Dodd-Frank Act, proprietary trading, securities regulation, financial institutions, banking regulation, commercial banking, investment banking, underwriting

JEL Classification: G18, G21, G24, K22

Suggested Citation

Branson, Douglas, A Return to Old-Time Religion? The Glass-Steagall Act, the Volcker Rule, Limits on Proprietary Trading, and Sustainability (October 14, 2014). University of St. Thomas Law Journal, Forthcoming, U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2014-39, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2509958

Douglas Branson (Contact Author)

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law (Emeritus) ( email )

3900 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States
412-624-3437 (Phone)

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