We can expect a lot of revisionist history in the next several months, as policymakers and pundits attempt to spin the historical record to fit their interests.
We had a speaker at Tuck today who mentioned the SEC's 2004 rule change, which eliminated some leverage restrictions on investment banks in favor of capital requirements by type of asset as well as more reliance on self-regulation and reporting to the SEC. A good reference for a similar story is here in the NYT.
I have been meaning to look into this "smoking gun" for some time as it did sound intriguing. Of course, the headline is usually something like the NYT's: "Agency's '04 Rule Let Banks Pile Up New Debt." The subheading is, naturally, that we need more regulation not less and that the Bush administration was at fault.
Now there might be some issues about regulation of the banks, and I myself am very surprised at how poorly market forces seemed to enforce reasonable behavior on the part of the banks. Like Alan Greenspan, I have I guess a nostalgic view of how self-regulation should work (well).
But as to the story on the 2004 deregulation -- it simply does not hold water. I pulled out the Bear Stearns 2003 and 2006 annual reports -- before and after the regulatory change, but before falling asset prices caused an endogenous increase in liquidity.
In 2003, Bear had an overall leverage ratio of 26.4, and a net adjusted leverage ratio of 12.4. In 2006, the respective numbers were 26.5 and 13.6.
Do you think the NYT reporter could have looked that up and told us as well?