Addressing The Securitization Market, Barr Doesn't Hold Back

Right before lunch, I attended ASF's keynote address: a speech by Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions of the U.S. Treasury, Michael Barr. I'm not sure if it was a lack of interest in his speech, or its proximity to mealtime, but the room was only about half full for this one -- probably the least number of people I've seen so far in a major session today. For those who were present, they witnessed the first speaker who didn't hold back his criticism of the securitzation market.

Barr was the first Obama administration representative that I have heard speak at the conference, and his tone was definitely different from representatives from the IMF and Federal Reserve who were on other panels. While those other officials seemed understanding to the interests and problems in the securitzation market, Barr didn't appear as sympathetic.

He did begin by saying securitization is essential. He then went through the administration's regulatory proposals thus far, such as the consumer financial protection agency. He continued by reminding everyone all of the actions that the government took -- both Treasury and Federal Reserve -- during the financial crisis to stabilize the market.

But then, he didn't hold back in criticizing the market's actions during the housing boom. He directed some comments at the issuers who created badly constructed deals. He also accused rating agencies of falling prey to conflicts of interest.

These disparaging comments were not well received. I saw a few of the conference participants look at each other quizzically, as if to say, "Is this guy serious?" Although the securitization community knows that mistakes were made, few believe that the mistakes were intentional, or as malicious as many in Washington assert.

During the lunch that followed, I discussed the speech with a few securitization professionals. They all had the perception that I observed during the speech. Barr didn't appear to get it. He read the administration's talking points, instead of addressing the problems that the securitization market worries about and offering constructive advice on how to tackle the problems that lie ahead through regulation.