At Jackson Hole, Yellen defends post-crisis regulations

Chair Janet Yellen
Chair Janet Yellen

Chair Janet Yellen

:: Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen on Friday defended regulations put in place after the 2008 financial meltdown, saying they promoted both stability and economic growth.

The remarks came during a much anticipated address at an annual economists’ symposium at Jackson Hole, Wyoming and followed efforts by Donald Trump’s administration to roll back legislation adopted to prevent another collapse in the financial system. The administration blames the regulations for stifling economic growth.

In her remarks, Yellen also offered scant clues as to whether the Fed may raise interest rates again this year, something increasingly in doubt.

She noted, however, that the world’s largest economy had made “substantial progress” toward reaching the Fed’s goals of full employment and price stability — circumstances which can call for higher rates.

“The evidence shows that reforms since the crisis have made the financial system substantially safer,” Yellen said in prepared remarks.

She noted that stress-testing had caused banks to increase their capital cushions in order to weather future shocks and had improved risk management. The quality of assets held by banks had risen, while dependence on short-term wholesale funding was down by half, she added.

While there was some contradictory evidence as to whether the reforms were hindering economic activity, she pointed to assessments which found “sizable net benefits to economic growth from higher capital standards.”

“The steps to improve the capital positions of banks promptly and significantly following the crisis… have resulted in a return of lending growth and profitability among US banks more quickly than among their global peers,” Yellen said.

She acknowledged, however, that lending may be less available to some borrowers with poorer credit histories.

President Donald Trump has denounced the Dodd-Frank financial reforms, saying they hindered lending, and directed the Treasury Department to review the legislation for possible changes.

Bank profits have been robust, however, and no substantial policy proposals have yet come forward.

Yellen warned that “sooner or later” markets would again experience “excessive optimism,” leveraging and other threats that could require new regulatory responses.

“We re-learned this lesson through the pain inflicted by the crisis,” Yellen said.

“We can never be sure that new crises will not occur,” she added.

But if governments are mindful of the dangers, “we have reason to hope that the financial system and economy will experience fewer crises and recover from any future crises more quickly.”

Yellen’s term is due to expire in February and Trump has said he may reappoint her, but he has also floated the possibility of naming current economic adviser Gary Cohn to replace her as Fed Chair.

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