By James Politi in Washington
Published: February 26 2010 21:03 | Last updated: February 26 2010 21:03
Goldman Sachs and other US banks that arranged contentious derivatives trades for Greece could face a congressional hearing into their role.
Carolyn Maloney, the New York Democrat who chairs the joint economic committee in Congress, called on Friday for the House financial services committee to examine US financial firms’ “involvement” in the Greek debt crisis. “I believe a hearing is timely and important for the committee to ensure proper oversight and to investigate whether or not additional actions may be appropriate,” Ms Maloney said in a letter to Barney Frank, the chairman of the committee.
Mounting pressure in Congress on banks that helped Greece massage its public finances follows news that the Federal Reserve is also examining the matter. “We are looking into a number of questions relating to Goldman Sachs and other companies and their derivatives arrangements with Greece,” Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, told Senate lawmakers on Thursday.
Mr Bernanke also said that the use of credit default swaps – other derivatives that protect nations against default and whose volatility has contributed to market instability in connection with the Greek debt crisis – could in some cases be “counterproductive”. Goldman has not commented on the Fed probe. The Securities and Exchange Commission has also confirmed it is looking into “potential abuses” related to the use of credit default swaps.
Ms Maloney compared the use of credit default swaps in the Greek situation to the “activities that brought down American International Group”, referring to the US insurer that collapsed and was bailed out in September 2008. “These reports, if true, are a shocking echo of the financial crisis that faced the US in 2008 – whose reverberations are still being felt today, in the worst recession in decades.”
Increased regulatory and political scrutiny of US banks’ roles in the Greek debt crisis comes as the Senate is negotiating a broad financial reform bill. Aides on Capitol Hill said the latest revelations could add impetus to efforts by some lawmakers to tighten regulations on derivatives trading.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010.