New rules the Federal Reserve released in October to crack down on stock trading by board governors, regional presidents and senior executives seemed like a neat little bow to address a then-burgeoning scandal that, less than a month earlier had played a role in the resignation. leaders of the central bank’s Boston and Dallas satellites.
At least one analyst, at the time, heralded the quick turnaround.
“At the rate government usually moves, it’s breakneck speed,” Peter Conti-Brown, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, told Bloomberg.
Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic then said, in a interview with CNBCthat he “hoped that quick action would allow us to put this behind us and refocus on the work ahead”.
But comments last fall from think tank staff and other advocates may seem prophetic at this point.
“This should be the start of a thorough investigation into what’s going on on the board and in the Reserve Banks, not the end,” said Aaron Klein, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. told Reuters in October.
Dennis Kelleher, CEO of financial monitoring group Better Markets, said The New York Times the Fed’s ban on buying individual stocks, holding investments in individual bonds, or entering into derivative contracts should apply to “anyone at the Fed who is in possession of material, non-public information.”
“The new policies cannot be used to whitewash previous poor judgment, leadership failures and violation of the Fed’s own policies, if not the law,” Kelleher said.
Indeed, over the past four months, financial revelations from Fed staff have compounded the scandal. An amended disclosure form has revealed former Fed Vice Chairman Richard Clarida sold an exchange-traded fund on the eve of the COVID-19 pandemic – then bought it back three days later, just before the central bank signaled it might cut interest. rates. Clarida resigned in January.
And Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported, disclosure forms disclosed that two Fed economists — both senior associate directors of research and statistics — reported trades in the same pivotal week as Clarida.
John Stevens, for example, made 46 financial transactions on Feb. 27 and 28, 2020, which included buying and selling individual stocks, mutual funds and other investments, according to a disclosure form reviewed by the Journal. (February 28 of this year marked the day Fed Chairman Jerome Powell issued a statement signaling that the central bank may cut interest rates.)
Diana Hancock, another senior Fed official, on February 27, 2020 reported a sale of more than $1 million in an exchange-traded fund, then a purchase of between $500,001 and $1 million worth of shares in the same fund less than three weeks later.
Both economists cited their wives. Stevens, through a Fed spokesperson, said the transactions were almost entirely related to a spouse’s inheritance and that he was not directing the business activity. He said he informed his wife’s financial adviser of the Fed’s trading restrictions and that the holdings had been “rebalanced” to comply with central bank rules.
“Rebalancing,” of course, is how the Fed explained the transactions associated with Clarida’s amended disclosure.
Hancock, through the spokesperson, said his wife made the transactions in question on her form, adding that she had no control over them.
The Fed did not respond to a question from the Wall Street Journal about whether Stevens or Hancock had direct meetings with Powell prior to his Feb. 28, 2020 statement. The rules announced by the Fed in October have yet to take effect. effect.
Friday’s report isn’t even the first Fed ethics scenario to surface in the previous 48 hours. President Joe Biden’s three nominees for vacancies on the central bank’s board of governors on Wednesday signed ethics pledges stating that, if confirmed, they would “not seek employment or compensation” from a financial services company for four years after leaving the central bank.
The move may have been intended to counter an explosive allegation by Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-WY, made last week to Sarah Bloom Raskin, the nominee for vice chairman of Fed oversight. Lummis asked Raskin during her Senate Banking Committee nomination hearing if she used her position as a former Fed governor (she served from 2010 to 2014) to help fintech Reserve Trust secure a main account with the central bank in 2018. The account gives Reserve Trust direct access to the Fed’s payment system. Raskin served on the fintech’s board of directors from 2017 to 2019.
Raskin submitted a written statement Wednesday, at the request of ranking Senate Banking Committee member Sen. Pat Toomey, R-PA, saying she “did not recall any communications I made to assist Reserve Trust to obtain a main account”.
“Had I done so, I would have complied with all applicable ethical rules in such communications,” Raskin wrote.
Ethics aren’t Toomey’s only issue with Raskin. Even before last week’s hearing, Toomey accused Raskin of having “recently and repeatedly and expressly defended[ing] that financial regulators in general, and the Fed in particular, are allocating capital out of the fossil fuel sector.”
Toomey said climate change policy is the purview of elected officials, not the Fed.
The Pennsylvania senator continued his campaign for central banking change on Thursday, saying Congress should consider consolidating regional Fed banks whose research touches on issues such as climate change and social justice, according to Bloomberg.
“One of the things that concerns me is that in the absence of a compelling monetary policy objective, they seem to be wandering into other areas that they like to play on but have nothing to do with mission and purpose of the Fed,” Toomey said. “It’s time for Congress to rethink its role.”