Jay Powell Signals a Retreat on Banking Rules

Jay Powell, the Fed chair, stunned Wall Street yesterday with an apparent U-turn in bank regulation.Credit…Kenny Holston/The New York Times

Jay Powell’s surprise

For months, Wall Street C.E.O.s have been complaining bitterly and lobbying against the prospect of higher capital requirements, which would require them to keep more money on hand and would lower their profits. It appears they have scored a big win.

Jay Powell dropped the bombshell in his testimony before the House on Wednesday. Markets were still digesting the Fed chair’s go-slow comments on interest rate cuts when he signaled that proposed new rules to force lenders to beef up their books would be scaled back, or reworked.

“I do expect that there will be broad and material changes to the proposal,” he said.

The capital rules, known as the “Basel III Endgame,” would apply to the largest banks. They would have to set aside a bigger emergency cushion to soak up losses stemming from shocks like the bank run last year that led to the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and prompted a wider crisis.

But the proposals have come under fire from bank chiefs, industry lobbyists, Republican lawmakers and even some liberal members of Congress, who fear that a mandate to set aside billions to fight the next potential crisis could feed another one.

Critics fear that Basel III would crimp lending just as banks grapple with upheaval in commercial real estate. Lenders face a looming “maturity wall” of as much as $1.5 trillion in commercial real estate loans set to come over the next two years.

That risk came into blaring focus during Powell’s testimony. The stock price of New York Community Bank, a Long Island-based lender with a mountain of souring real estate loans, plummeted on news it was seeking emergency funding. (More on that below.)

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