A Year After Lehman's Collapse, 5 Reasons to Worry

As Obama plans to address Wall Street this afternoon, analysts worry that banking is in nearly as bad shape as before the crisis

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Now that the economy has bounced back from catastrophe, commentators are worried that the Obama administration has not done enough to prevent the next financial cataclysm.

The conventional wisdom about overhauling the banking sector is that the opportunity has weakened as economic doldrums have started to lift, and more particularly, when big banks such as Goldman Sachs began paying back the loans that gave the government leverage over them. But Obama, who has been spending most of his political capital on health care reform, is delivering a speech this afternoon to re-energize his push to impose new regulations on the banking system.

Many analysts have been focusing on the persistence, and worsening, of conditions that precipitated the crisis, raising concerns that the financial sector is just as gargantuan, risk-hungry, and dangerous to the economy as ever.

  • Banks Have Grown Even Larger, warns Joseph Stiglitz in an interview with Bloomberg. Stiglitz is one of a handful of major economists urging Obama to cut "systemically important" banks such as Bank of America and Citigroup down to size. "In the U.S. and many other countries, the too-big-to-fail banks have become even bigger...The problems are worse than they were in 2007 before the crisis."
  • Consumers Still Aren't Adequately Protected, argues the editorial board of the New York Times. The editors outline absolutely necessary reforms Congress should address when considering Obama's proposal. Curbing unfair, "abusive and unsound lending" to average Americans is "imperative," they write. "Unfortunately, Congress is already being pressured by the financial industry to weaken the proposal."
  • Fed Continues to Subsidize Bad Wall St. Behavior, writes Charles Gasparino in the New York Post. "It's not just that Wall Street has a short memory -- the last bailout made things worse...After Lehman's bankruptcy, the feds panicked and created the biggest safety net of all time."
  • No Change Since the Reckless Go-Go Days, says Walter Hamilton in the Los Angeles Times. "On the whole, Wall Street has recovered more quickly than expected with little difference in how it does business. And the unapologetic pursuit of money remains as deeply rooted as ever."
  • Derivatives Remain Unregulated, says Jennifer Liberto in a report for CNNMoney.com. "The administration wants big firms that sell derivatives to meet new capital requirements. They also want derivatives to be traded on clearinghouses -- markets that could add more transparency to the value of derivatives. But the clearinghouses would only apply to the most common derivatives and leave more specialized derivatives mostly unregulated."

One of the optimists in all this is Jim Cramer in New York Magazine. Cramer, the object of a fierce drubbing by Jon Stewart for his role in cheerleading investment mania, believes we have in fact learned a few lessons, and that we are in inescapably better shape:

There are no more surprises to be had, at least no giant ones. There are no more Lehmans lurking that can almost destroy the system again...The Lehman legacy, ironically, could be a better, stronger, humbler, more trustworthy banking system. While we certainly took a difficult, painful, and avoidable path to get there, it looks like there might be something positive to celebrate on this dubious anniversary after all.
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