Equifax Inc. said that more U.S. consumers were affected by its massive data breach last year than originally disclosed, the Wall Street Journal reported. The company said yesterday that it identified around 2.4 million Americans whose names and partial driver’s license information were stolen. The company in a statement said the consumers affected “were not in the previously identified” population of cyberattack victims. That brings the total number of U.S. consumers whose personal information was compromised by the breach to 147.9 million, up from 145.5 million previously. This is the second revision to the numbers that the company has made since disclosing the breach in September. Equifax had initially said approximately 143 million Americans had been affected.
U.S. regulators are considering changes to the “Volcker rule” Wall Street has sought for years that would make it easier and cheaper for banks to comply and allow them more leeway in trading and investing, Reuters reported. Part of the Dodd-Frank reform law passed after the 2007-09 financial crisis, the Volcker rule aimed to prevent banks, such as Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, from making risky market bets while accepting taxpayer-insured deposits. The rule forced many Wall Street banks, which before the crisis could gamble on their own account across various assets, to restructure their businesses, including overhauling their trading operations and hiving off billions of dollars’ worth of investment vehicles. Yet banks and some of their customers say that the rule, which runs to more than 1,000 pages, is too much of a burden for the financial industry by limiting banks’ ability to facilitate investments and hedges for investors and depressing trading volumes in some assets. Modifications being considered include: scrapping the presumption that short-term trades are proprietary unless banks prove otherwise, making it clearer which types of funds banks are banned from investing in, permanently exempting some foreign funds from the ban, and anointing a lead regulator to oversee the rule’s enforcement.
Credit union advocates met with President Trump yesterday to rally White House support behind a bill to loosen Dodd-Frank Act financial rules, The Hill reported. Trump hosted top credit union CEOs and lobbyists this afternoon, including representatives from the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions (NAFCU). The advocates pressed Trump on a bipartisan Senate bill to loosen Dodd-Frank rules, attendees said. While the bill from Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) is focused on exempting dozens of banks from stricter federal oversight, it also rolls back restrictions on lending across the financial sector. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill within the next two weeks.
Robust economic growth has increased the confidence of Federal Reserve officials that the economy is ready for higher interest rates, according to an official account of the central bank’s most recent policymaking meeting in late January, the New York Times reported. The Fed did not raise its benchmark interest rate at the meeting on Jan. 30 and 31, but the account reinforced investor expectations that the Fed would raise rates at its next meeting in March. The account said that Fed officials have upgraded their economic outlooks since the beginning of the year and listed three main reasons: the strength of recent economic data, accommodative financial conditions and the expected impact of the $1.5 trillion tax cut that took effect in January. The Fed is seeking to raise rates gradually to maintain control of inflation without impeding an economic expansion that is nearing the end of its ninth year, one of the longest stretches of continuous economic growth in American history.
The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that anti-retaliation protections under the Dodd-Frank Act only kick in when a whistleblower has reported the stock and investment fraud to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), The Hill reported. In a unanimous decision, the court said the text of the law written by Congress following the financial crisis in 2011 defines a "whistleblower" as someone who provides information relating to a violation of the securities law to the commission. The case centered on Paul Somers, a former employee for Digital Realty Trust Inc. who was fired after he reported alleged securities violations to his senior management, but not the SEC. Somers and his attorney argued that his employment should have been protected under the Dodd-Frank rule. But in delivering the opinion of the court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that the core of Dodd-Frank’s whistleblower program is to aid the SEC's enforcement work by “motivating people who know of securities law violations to tell the SEC.” And while Dodd-Frank provides whistleblowers with monetary rewards when they provide actionable information about financial fraud, Ginsburg said that Congress recognized that might not be enough of an incentive to encourage employees who are fearful of employer retaliation to come forward to report that information to the government. “Congress therefore complemented the Dodd-Frank monetary incentives for SEC reporting by heightening protection against retaliation,” she wrote.
The Trump administration recommended retaining the government’s power to seize and unwind a failing financial firm in a crisis, departing from some conservative Republican lawmakers and endorsing a plank of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial law, the Wall Street Journal reported. The Treasury Department, in a report yesterday, called for changes to correct what it described as “serious defects” around how and when orderly liquidation authority (OLA) would be used. As expected, it said that the authority should be retained as a tool for the government if a huge financial firm were on the brink of failure. “Treasury shares many of the concerns raised by critics of OLA,” the report said, adding the authority is “a far preferable alternative to destabilizing financial contagion or ad hoc government bailouts.” The report also recommended changes to the bankruptcy code to make it easier for such a failure to be resolved in bankruptcy court, without the government taking over the failing firm.
The Trump administration is looking to clarify when Americans can discharge student loans in bankruptcy, responding to concerns that more borrowers will be stuck under huge debt burdens for years, the WSJ Pro Bankruptcy reported. Since 1998, federal law has prohibited Americans from discharging student loans made by the federal government, except in extremely rare circumstances. Congress expanded the prohibition to cover private student loans in 2005. Only borrowers who file for bankruptcy and prove an “undue hardship” in repaying their loans are permitted to have their loans expunged. Congress never defined “undue hardship,” leaving it to bankruptcy judges to decide case by case. They set a high bar. Very few borrowers have had their loans expunged in bankruptcy, and student-borrower advocates say many others don’t even try. The Education Department, in a public notice set to be released today, said that it was considering whether to clarify what factors should be considered in determining whether borrowers meet the threshold for undue hardship.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said yesterday that President Donald Trump “feels strongly” that the U.S. should impose a sales tax on purchases made over the Internet, Bloomberg News reported. Mnuchin, speaking at a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee, said that he has spoken personally with Trump about the issue, and that the president “does feel strongly” that the tax should be applied. The prospect of an online sales tax has been a long-standing point of contention between Internet-based retailers and their brick-and-mortar rivals. Trump has previously gone after Internet giant Amazon.com Inc., saying that last year that it does “great damage to tax paying retailers.” Amazon began collecting sales taxes on purchases in all states that levy them earlier last year, despite an exemption that allows online retailers to avoid collecting them in places where they don’t have a physical presence. But Amazon still avoids charging shoppers sales taxes when they buy from one of its third-party vendors — sales that make up about half the company’s volume.
Jolted by the global investment craze over bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, U.S. lawmakers are moving to consider new rules that could impose stricter federal oversight on the emerging asset class, Reuters reported. Bipartisan momentum is growing in the Senate and House of Representatives for action to address the risks posed by virtual currencies to investors and the financial system. “There’s no question about the fact that there is a need for a regulatory framework,” said Republican Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). Digital assets currently fall into a jurisdictional gray area between the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve and individual states. Much of the concern on Capitol Hill is focused on speculative trading and investing in cryptocurrencies, leading some lawmakers to push for digital assets to be regulated as securities and subject to the SEC’s investor protection rules.
Fannie Mae will request an infusion of taxpayer money for the first time since 2012 because of an unintended but anticipated side effect of the corporate tax cut signed into law in December, Bloomberg News reported. The mortgage-finance company, which reported fourth-quarter and full-year financial results yesterday, said that it will need to draw $3.7 billion from the U.S. Treasury in March to keep its net worth from going negative. The deficit was driven by a $6.5 billion loss in the fourth quarter, which came as a result of a drop in the value of assets Fannie can use to offset taxes. The assets became less valuable when Congress cut the corporate tax rate, resulting in a $9.9 billion hit.