June 6, 2017 / 8:01 PM / 2 months ago

Reflecting on 2008, Bernanke says steer Wall Street away from courts

3 Min Read

Ben Bernanke speaks at the SALT conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. May 17, 2017.Richard Brian

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ben Bernanke has a plea for U.S. policymakers on behalf of his regulatory heirs: Keep big banks out of bankruptcy court in the event of a future Wall Street meltdown.

Bankruptcy court may be the wrong place for banks to meet their maker, the former Federal Reserve chairman said on Tuesday at the Brookings Institution in Washington. A chaotic failure on Wall Street would be just too damaging and so regulators should have another option ready.

"Under circumstances like we had in 2008 I really don't see (bankruptcy) as being realistic," Bernanke said.

Bernanke ran the central bank during the 2008 meltdown and constructed emergency rescue plans for the financial system alongside Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and then-New York Fed President Timothy Geithner.

Financial reforms put in place since then have granted regulators so-called "Orderly Liquidation Authority" allowing them to seize a teetering bank and execute a living will put together by the bank. Big banks like JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) and Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) have been submitting resolution plans for approval and incorporating feedback from regulators for years.

However, a new reform plan backed by Republican lawmakers would erase some of those provisions.

House of Representatives Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, who is leading the effort, has said bankruptcy court is a better option because it eliminates the risk that taxpayers would have to bail out a failing institution.

During the 2008 crisis, the federal government injected hundreds of billions of dollars into big banks, insurer American International Group Inc (AIG.N), mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and automakers, whose financing arms were in trouble. The Fed also invented multitrillion-dollar liquidity programs and set interest rates to zero to stabilize financial markets.

Much of the mayhem erupted after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 15, 2008. Stock markets swung dramatically in the following weeks as investors worried regulators would not be able to save the system from collapse. Lehman’s bankruptcy has been playing out in court for years.

Given that experience, Bernanke said his successors will need "weekend-type speed."

"The bankruptcy system," he said, "has no need for speed."

Reporting By Patrick Rucker; Editing by Lauren Tara LaCapra and Steve Orlofsky

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