President Obama struck a tough stance on overhauling Wall Street today, saying he won’t accept a financial reform bill if it doesn’t include new derivatives regulations, the opaque products that allow certain users to hedge risk but others to gamble on swings in the market. Any new bill needs to bring derivatives trading “under control,” the president was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Right now, derivatives, which derive their value from underlying sources like the cost of wheat or interest rates, are mostly traded over the counter, which means there’s little public information about trading prices, the structure of the derivatives, and who’s trading with whom. The opacity of the OTC derivatives market, worth around $450 trillion, played a major role in the collapse of the global economy. Because Wall Street and other financial heavyweights used derivatives to dangerously bet on the financial markets, and did so without sharing information on the cost and nature of those deals, when those bets went sour in 2008 and 2009, there was no safety net or cushion across the industry to absorb those losses. The result was the crippling of firms like AIG.
New derivatives regulations proposed by the House and Senate would require greater transparency in derivatives trading and would also require that many of the firms buying and selling these products would together bear the brunt of the next crisis, thus preventing a handful of firms from getting pummelled. These are crucial reforms needed to bolster how corporations, utility companies, farmers, and many others use derivatives, and Obama appears ready to make sure those reforms happen.