Wall Street Firms Win Again, Regulators Capitulate 

Financial Crisis is forgotten. Even sounds of gentle wrist-slapping fade. 

Penalties imposed during the first half of 2017 on Wall Street firms by their regulators — the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (Finra) — plunged 65% compared to the same period in 2016.

During the first half in 2016, $1.4 billion in fines were levied on Wall Street firms by the three regulators. In 2017, the total was down to $489 million, according to data collected by The Wall Street Journal.

In this context, Wells Fargo doesn’t have much to fear after admitting a week ago that since 2012 it had quietly added unneeded comprehensive and physical damage insurance to the car payments of 570,000 (or 800,000) of its auto-loan customers.

The SEC imposed $318 million in fines in the first half, down 58% from the same period a year ago, based on The Journal’s search of federal documents and publicly available records on the SEC’s website, along with data provided by University of Virginia law school professor Andrew Vollmer.

In the first six months of 2016, the SEC imposed $750 million in penalties. This included a case filed in June that year with a penalty of $358 million; it alleged a bank had misused customer assets. By contrast, the largest fine so far this year has been a soft slap on the wrist of $30 million.

The Journal explains:

SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, who took over in May, has expressed concern about the size of corporate penalties the SEC has levied in recent years, saying they hurt shareholders and it would be better to punish guilty individuals.

At the CFTC, the fines imposed in the first half plunged 74%, to $154 million. In the first half of 2016, fines had reached $603 million, which included Libor-rigging and Euribor-rigging cases, with Goldman Sachs alone getting docked for $120 million.

At Finra, a legendary wrist-slapper, the wrist-slapping in the first half this year plunged 77% year-over-year to just $17 million. Finra is a private corporation that acts as self-regulatory organization for its member brokerage firms and exchange markets but is ultimately overseen by the SEC. In the first half of 2016, it imposed at least five fines of over $1 million and publicly announced each one of them. Public shaming used to be part of the process. Not anymore. In the first half of 2017, it imposed only two fines of over $1 million, without publicly announcing either one.

“There has been a dialing back,” Brian Rubin, a partner at law firm Eversheds Sutherland, told The Journal. Finra “has gotten lot of feedback from member firms that there has been a big increase in fines [in recent years] …and that’s something they’re looking at.”

But 2016 had already been a low-water mark as the agencies under the Obama administration were dialing back their efforts. In the full year of 2016, penalties imposed by all three agencies had plunged by over 50% from 2015, from $4.4 billion in 2015 to $2.1 billion in 2016, which had been the lowest level of fines since 2012. At this pace, penalties in 2017 are on track to drop to the lowest level since the Financial Crisis.

The regulators say it’s no big deal. The Journal:

Kevin Callahan, the spokesman, said the SEC doesn’t consider six months to be long enough to draw any lessons about the agency’s effectiveness. The number of cases brought over the two periods was “relatively constant,” he added. [It was just the size of fines, which were minuscule].

James McDonald, enforcement chief at the CFTC, said variations in penalty tallies from year to year are normal and “not an indication of any changes in our commitment to vigorously prosecute violations of our laws to preserve market integrity and protect customers.” He said, “There will be no let up, no pause, and no delay in our enforcement program.”

Nancy A. Condon, a Finra spokeswoman, said “vigorous enforcement is an essential part of our oversight.” The nongovernmental watchdog, which oversees brokers and brokerage firms, assesses its regulatory programs “based on our ability to efficiently and effectively identify and discipline bad actors,” she added, and “not on the volume of actions or overall quantity of fines.”

Wall Street has been able to place four former Goldman Sachs executives into top positions in the Trump administration: Gary Cohn, Dina Powell, Steve Bannon, and Steven Mnuchin (famous for having bought the mortgages of collapsed mortgage lender IndyMac from the FDIC in 2009, folded them into OneWest Bank, dealt with them in a controversial manner, and sold the whole schmear for a blistering profit in 2015). The fifth, Anthony Scaramucci, didn’t last long.

And Wall Street has been on an all-out lobbying campaign in Washington. Among its goals is the gutting of the post-Financial Crisis bank regulation bill, the Dodd-Frank Act. And Wall Street firms, along with the Chamber of Commerce and the Financial Services Institute, are lobbying fiercely to get the size of the penalties reduced to where the consequences for wrongdoing don’t matter at all anymore.

Congress is responding favorably. The administration is rolling back regulations. And fines have already plunged under a “business friendly” attitude that has spread to the regulatory agencies. Clearly, the only lesson learned from the Financial Crisis is that Wall Street always wins.

One of the big lobbying thrusts is for Congress to lower the bank capital requirements that it had raised after the Financial Crisis to keep banks from collapsing when things get ugly again. But FDIC Vice Chairman Thomas Hoenig, a regulator left over from the post-Financial Crisis years, is not happy. The “real economy has little to gain, and much to lose,” he told the Senate. Read…  Mega-Banks Blow 100% of Earnings on Share-Buybacks & Dividends, Crimp Lending, Constrain Economy

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  54 comments for “Wall Street Firms Win Again, Regulators Capitulate 

  1. BoyfromTottenham says:

    Thanks Wolf. We all wait with bated breath to see if this trend continues, or is just a blip (its possible, I guess). Not that I care a great deal about what US corporations do to you poor suffering US residents – I live in the happy land of Oz. ;-)

  2. raxadian says:

    This will just make companies even more bold, what they paid before was just chump change compared to what their earned with their scams.

  3. tony says:

    You have 3 people appointed by new president from goldman sach’s how was this going to change anything.

  4. Stevedcfc72 says:

    I’d love to know how much the European Banks have been fined in comparison over the same time period by the US authorities.

  5. andy says:

    Its a disaster.
    Why doesn’t somebody do something……

    • Frederickmuhlbauer says:

      Andy We haven’t the power to do anything Remember what George Carlin said about the ” club”

    • Gershon says:

      What do you suggest?

      And who is going to “do something”? Our bought and paid for Republicrat duopoly? Their Wall Street and corporate pimps?

      The sheeple voted for these grifters and turned a blind eye to their corruption and toadying for the banksters and corporations. Ron Paul ran an upstart campaign in 2008 warning of the dangers the counterfeiters and racketeers at the Federal Reserve posed to the nation and vowing to fight crony capitalism: only five percent of the electorate supported him.

      Now the ‘Murican sheeple are purely and simply going to get the fleecing they deserve.

      • Kent says:


        As someone who works in government, and often closely with politicians, I will assert that the people have little say in the matter. First of all, you only get to vote for people who choose to run for office. Party bosses know how to throw money at their picks, and insert their own, fake candidates, to split the votes for other candidates.

        The media is owned by the same people who own the party bosses. The Ron Paul’s of the world will get little coverage and whatever coverage they get will be either negative or will pooh-pooh their chances. When I was a teen, I remember every Sunday the local newspaper would show the votes of our elected politicians on any items from the previous week. That never, ever happens today.

        State voting districts have been gerrymandered to the point that they are small one-party states. The incumbent is often so powerful that no one will run against him. Sometimes the other party won’t even put up a candidate because it will be a guaranteed loss of money.

        And the party bosses are clever, they know they only need a plurality for their candidate to win in primaries, and 50.1% in multi-party elections. Even when your favorite doesn’t win, the winner can often be coopted with money and favors. Trump won because the Republican leadership couldn’t put together a viable single candidate. But that didn’t matter, Trump has been quickly and forcefully coopted.

        This won’t change until their is some major disaster in the US. Another Great Depression, a major war that we lose or something similar. And all of that may be a long, long way off.

        The people are busy watching Fox News and MSNBC, and learning that all of their problems are the result of people in the other party. The average person is actually not very smart, and is too busy getting by to understand how things really work.

        • Dan Romig says:

          Very well stated Kent. I am an independent with a mostly Libertarian viewpoint. Your final paragraph is spot-on.

          Just a few days ago, the Minneapolis City Council (my next-door neighbor and friend is on the Council FWIW) approved restrictions on the sale of menthol, mint and wintergreen tobacco products which will reduce the locations where citizens can purchase these products from 318 places in the city to 47. Mind you, these products are heavily taxed, and generate revenue for government.

          As a letter writer in the Mpls Star Tribune comment today: ” “Because we said so” is not a valid reason to ban any legal product. Please just do your jobs, and stay out of everyone’s personal, legal lives.” Even though I have never used tobacco, I couldn’t have said it any better myself!

          Getting to the subject of Wall Street and regulations, it is clear that paying fines is just a cost of doing business, and from Holder to Lynch to Sessions, no criminal indictments have been issued to those who’ve committed rampant felonious actions.

        • Cynic says:

          When I almost went bankrupt in 2008 – all my customers just vanished – I was for some years far too busy surviving and (thankfully) rebuilding to pay any attention to any of this stuff.

          When the hot dragon of insolvency is breathing down your neck, attention gets to be very narrow in focus.

  6. Gershon says:

    The looting and asset-stripping of the middle and working classes by the oligarchs and their chief instrument of plunder, the Federal Reserve, continues apace. Trump campaigned as a populist and nationalist; now he’s showing his true colors: New York con artist.

    • Mary says:

      Don’t blame New Yorkers for this fiasco. They know what the man’s word is worth and voted solidly against him.

      • Frederick says:

        The fact that they voted for Hillary tells me all I already knew about NYers and I was one for 57 years

  7. walter map says:

    One wonders why they don’t simply write themselves a stack of trillion-dollar cheques and be done with it.

    Maybe they already have.

    • RangerOne says:

      Isn’t that kind of what happened with a few extra steps? Lend money at no cost. Poor money into the system. Watch stock and asset price skyrocket. Absorb all newly printed money as profit and make payments on zero interest government loans….

    • Gary says:

      Yeah, I wonder that too. My train of thought is that if ‘they’ print TOO much money all at once, the commoners will become disturbed and unproductive (everything from daily disruptions hurting the economy to full-scale civil unrest). After all, if the commoners aren’t productive, there is not much to steal. That’s the name of this game.

      Of course the logical conclusion to this is that at some point, ‘they’ must tighten conditions so they can “reap” the production harvest by grabbing things at lower prices (from the commoners). And then the cycle starts again.

      • Gary says:

        I should have emphasized that money printing is definitely stimulating (helps production)

      • Frederick says:

        You know what I don’t understand On Sept 10 2001 Donald Rumsfeld stated on TV that 2.3 trillion dollars was “missing” from the pentagon budget They had that kind of money just lying around did they? Interesting isn’t it? And we have never heard of an investigation into what happened to our money have we folks?

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Every year, there are reports that more money is missing – “unaccounted for” – at the Pentagon. Record keeping is so terrible that the DOD cannot be even properly audited by the government auditors. To this day!

        • d says:

          Remember Independence day??

          Old jew talking top young Jew. On the presidential flight to area 51.
          “You dont really think they pay $1000.00 for a toilet seat do ya?”

          they donet get audited fro a reason and i gurantee they really havent lost 1 cent.

          Unlike china and russia among other places. very little US Defence spending ends up in pockets before passing through the hands of suppliers accountants.

          Hence US general, getting demoted and retired, for using US Govt funds, to cove the expenses of his wife’s travel.

        • walter map says:

          ‘Donald Rumsfeld stated on TV that 2.3 trillion dollars was “missing” from the pentagon budget”

          The numbers go up every year. Some current estimates go over $10 trillion.

          The Pentagon Money Pit: $6.5 Trillion in Unaccountable Army Spending and No DoD Audit


          Auditors always get stonewalled, so nobody bothers anymore.

  8. Kent says:

    “SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, who took over in May, has expressed concern about the size of corporate penalties the SEC has levied in recent years, saying they hurt shareholders and it would be better to punish guilty individuals.”

    So where do I find the list of guilty individuals they’re punishing? LOL!

    • walter map says:

      The whole point of having a corporation is to protect the guilty.

      Ultimately the purpose of corporations is to expands ones rights and privileges without practical limit, to include immunity from the laws and the ability to write your own laws for your own benefit. Modern governance largely consists of enabling the pirates and preventing them from being inconvenienced by resentments of the subject population.

      So far you’re somewhat more profitable to them alive than dead, but that can easily be changed with a few minor adjustments to the cost structure.

      The upcoming constitutional convention will put corporations firmly in charge of the country, its people and its resources, and will finally allow the laws to accurately reflect the longstanding political and economic realities.

      • MD says:

        Yup – it isn’t hyperbole or exaggeration to say we’re are on the brink of and flirting with corporate fascism; large corporations already seem to be telling democratically-elected politicians what to do in terms of policy, and telling the state how much tax they are (aren’t) going to pay. The revolving doors between the worlds of politics and high finance are spinning like a top.

        So many societal features of Orwell’s 1984 have actually arrived, not least of which permanent war against ever-changing opponents.

      • Meme Imfurst says:

        Take some until we squawk, then back off for awhile. Take some more until we squawk, back off let the dust settle, then take some more. …a little at a time, this is the same method the banks have used with the help of the Politians. You can see where it is going, can’t you? The ‘party in charge’ makes no difference, the transgressions that have gained over the last 30 years is unprecedented, so money and power control the government, not the other way around.

        “”Public shaming used to be part of the process. Not anymore. In the first half of 2017, it imposed only two fines of over $1 million, without publicly announcing either one.””
        Wolf, before long that liberty to print such ‘facts’ will be outlawed. Even saying anything negative will get you labeled, perhaps subject to a jail term, censure on U-Tube or Twitter, or even have your website taken down. (look at some of the jaw dropping laws passed in Canada lately). The path we are now on is littered with broken glass and razorblades, and we have no shoes and no broom.

        Yes, sir, a little at a time and before long we might even be like…say, Russia from 1920 to 1959, or China under Mao.

        We are in an era where you are with us and our programs and decisions, our laws, our rules, our opinions, or you are a problem to be dealt with…….as needed. So where does anyone want to be in 3 to 5 years?

      • Cynic says:

        Corporations can get a little confused, too: like I G Farben at Auschwitz – do they want their slaves to work, or die? And how quickly?

        They escaped the consequences, more or less. Just a pitiful compensation payment and a nominal splitting up of the firm.

        The oven makers stayed in business, but I believe the suppliers of the poison did actually get the chop.

        • walter map says:

          “like I G Farben at Auschwitz – do they want their slaves to work, or die?”

          Work, and then die, in that order, preferably after walking into a mass grave to avoid disposal costs.

          Plenty more where those came from, shipped in bulk at state expense. No payroll, no housing, no bathroom breaks, and best of all, no labor laws.

          Modern workers never had it so good, despite the bankruptcies and the homelessness. One can just hear the corporatists whining for the good old days.

        • alex in san jose says:

          I think the ideal worker is something like a bracero


          for manual work, or an H1B for white collar work, ideally some other country raises them, educates them, and has ’em all ready to work their asses off from ages 18-38 or so, then they can be deported or life made miserable enough for them that they’ll self-deport.

          The idea is to get the prime working years out of ’em without having to pay for raising and educating them, and without having to support them in their old age or even have to pay out what they paid into Social Security and Medicare which illegals pay into.

          Somewhat analogous is the situation with homelessness. The life expectancy of a homeless person in the US is 50-odd years. You lose about 35 years of life expectancy if you are homeless in the USA. We’re talking Sub-Saharan African expected lifetimes here.

          I recently met yet another homeless engineer so this subject is a pretty interesting one to me. There are engineers, techs, guys who know tons of IT stuff, as well as people who had jobs as parking lot attendants, janitors, carpenters, all sorts of jobs.

          So, if you can make life hard enough for the average man that say, 10% are going to become homeless and die off well before they can collect the Social Security they paid into, well, profit!

        • Frederick says:

          Alex Well I plan to tear up their plan Started collecting in October at 62 have a 40 year old wife and am breaking ground on my small bnb on the Med in September If all goes well I will get every penny back that I paid in perhaps more if I eat only my own organic healthy foods

      • Maximus Minimus says:

        Corporations were already in complete control. E.g. Wall Street and their court jesters in the media were telling Greenspan what interest rates they wanted and he always delivered. The crash of 2008 stole the march temporarily when political power had a chance, but squandered it by the clueless in charge. And political power was taken over/back in the same manner.

    • Petunia says:

      AG Sessions has recently expressed unconditional support for asset seizure laws which mostly affect average people who are most times not even charged with a crime. The police steal from the working class but not from known criminals in the upper class. Only the property of the rich is protected in America.

      • Smingles says:


        AG Jeff Sessions is an all-around really horrible human being.

        What is surprising to me is that opposition to asset seizure laws are one of the very few things that liberals and Trump supporters find common ground on, one of the few things that a vast majority of Americans in general agree on (as nearly 90% of Americans oppose asset seizures)… and yet, there he is, trying to restart the drug war, grow the police state in size and strength.

        Trump unfortunately staffed his whole administration with the worst possible choices nearly unilaterally across the board. And these guys actually DO get stuff done.

  9. John says:

    Maybe Sessions ramping up of asset seizures will apply to Wallstreet? After all, they seem guilty as hell, and hence deserve to have any and all funds confiscated. But then I guess laws are just for little people.

    • TJ Martin says:

      Sessions ? Do the right thing when it comes to anything that may benefit the common man to the potential detriment of the corporations , financial and government institutions not to mention the privileged classes ?

      Errr … take a look at his record …. aint never gonna happen .

    • walter map says:

      You’re still thinking that DC regulates Wall St., when it’s really the other way around.

      Sessions won’t be doing any confiscating. That’s Wall Street’s job.

    • Mike G says:

      It’ll be a frosty day in hell before you see asset forfeiture apply to big corporations, in practice it’s only used on the powerless who can’t fight back.

      It’s for predatory local cops to take stuff from people who don’t have the resources to go to court to get it returned.

  10. TJ Martin says:

    ” Kevin Callahan, the spokesman, said the SEC doesn’t consider six months to be long enough to draw any lessons about the agency’s effectiveness ”

    Yeah right . Cause of course between the lack of actions over the last six months … the fact that Wall Street has yet to pay for its previous sins of 2008 … along with the swamp creatures from the Black Lagoon in DC now running the show … what is blatantly obvious to one and all with ” Eyes Wide Open ” can’t possibly be true .. or can it ?

    So crisis ? What crisis ?There was no crisis . Until that is the next one slaps us all across the face no doubt worse than the last with us all singing ;

    ” Tonight we’re gonna party like its nine teen twenty nine ”

    Cause day by day the news is sounding more like 1928 leading up to the Great Depressions that it has since … 1928 .e.g Unregulated greed deluded by visions of glory thinking nothing could possibly go wrong … until it does

    Damn that Black Swan’s gonna have itself a helluva good time wreaking havoc when it finally hits the ground …. my still wondering what form it’ll take this time

  11. IdahoPotato says:

    SEC chairman Jay Clayton. The shady Wall Street lawyer who won’t disclose his shady ties.
    The guy whose wife still works for Goldman Sachs.


    Clayton has some clients on his roster that are so sensitive that he won’t even divulge who they are. Clayton’s disclosure form includes a note saying that four individual clients and five corporate clients are not listed “because the disclosure of the representations are the subject of attorney-client privilege and other confidentiality obligations.”

    Clayton also indicated that two corporate clients aren’t detailed because they’re the “subject of a pending non-public investigation.”

    It’s not clear if those investigations are being conducted by the SEC or other authorities.

    • Smingles says:

      You hear that sucking sound? It’s the sound of the swamp being dr… HAHAHAHAH NO I’M JUST KIDDING.

  12. Rates says:

    LOL. At this point, this is pretty much a Broadway show minus the music. You have Wall Streeters being policed by another Wall Streeter.

    But don’t worry guys, the bubble does not have long I think.

    Yesterday I was in a local SF sandwich shop: Lou’s, and I overheard a couple of guys talking about Facebook stock, earnings expectations and making 3% a day. Ok what’s so strange about that you think? These guys were 19 to 20 years old at most, and their fund: their 500 dollars savings. Yep broke the piggybank to trade.

    • Dan Romig says:

      President Obama’s second Attorney General sat on the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Board of Directors under then Bank President Tim Geithner from 2003 to 2005. That is the ultimate “Wall Streeters being policed by another Wall Streeter.”

  13. Niko says:

    I am not sure how the current regulatory climate is any different that the past 8 years. Wolf has addressed how Wall Street capitalized on distressed properties under the previous administration, the pay back was “fining” some the banks and Wall Street firms to make it appear something was being done.

    I am beginning to think that having the Pant Suit as POTUS would have been better. At least the carnage would have already started, instead if giving false hope of a recovery.

  14. Jim Graham says:

    “”it would be better to punish guilty individuals””

    IF there were sincere and proper investigations, along with uncompromised prosecution and meaningful sentences of prison time and the forfeit of ALL assets that they have – even if they were properly earned in ANY manner or at ANY time, even what they may have earned while mowing lawns when they were children……………

    I “MIGHT” give consideration to not fining the “companies” for the transgressions of its employees.

    MIGHT – but probably not. The stockholders do not have the right to any gains made in a crooked manner by the company. Those earnings should be returned to the entity they were taken from…..

    End of rant.

  15. mean chicken says:

    Why do commercial banks have FDIC coverage, what’s the REAL purpose of that?

    • Mike says:

      I opine to the FDIC alleged protections are there deceive the gullible, and they served to try to discourage bank runs by misleading investors with the ideal that the FDIC really could protect even the first $100,000 deposited of all deposits. See https://qwealthreport.com/but-all-usa-bank-accounts-are-insured-by-the-fdic-right/.

      Actually, if one of the major banks goes down, the FDIC has just enough money to pay a tiny fraction of that bank’s actual, gigantic liabilities, even after taking depositors’ funds(!) per our crazy current banking rules that penalize the most innocent and bail out the incompetent, reckless, and most guilty banksters to enable them get more undeserved bonuses, and then yell for a bail out of the banksters from the tax payers, again, as in 2008.

      Trump would remove even the little regulation that limits some of the banksters’ risk taking. He promised a Glass-Steagal act, which apparently was just another lie. See http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-mnuchin-glass-steagall-wall-street-bank-regulation-2017-5.

      In future, if you believe anything at all that Trump says, you have only yourself to blame when you later learn that he deceived you, as he has in so many other ways, so many other times. To think that I almost voted for him due to Hillary Clinton’s ties to Goldman Sachs….

    • d says:

      “Why do commercial banks have FDIC coverage, what’s the REAL purpose of that?”

      I am surprised you have to ask that.

      As a depositor will you put/keep any more money, in a bank that does not have FDIC than you absolutely need to, if you have a loan from it?? When the bank down the road that perhaps will not give you a loan has FDIC.

      With out interest free loans (AKA Deposits) many commercial banks can not support their money making services.

      FDIC helps keep those deposit levels stable.

      Banks can not function with wildly fluctuating deposit levels ,or against Bank run’s which FDIC Negates.

      FDIC is a necessary stability measure in the banking system of the land of legalised fraud.

      Remember ultimately FDIC is funded by depositors and tax payers, through levies. FDIC is ultimately underwritten by Taxpayers.

  16. Looking from outside says:

    The nation of brainwashed bicycle riders. You ride a bicycle until you can’t and then you die by tax, mortgage, medical and pharma.
    They are urinating on you head and you are taking it as G-d’s blessing…

  17. John Harris says:

    The only peaceful way to put a stop to the sociopathic behavior of big banks is for millions of people to cooperate in a boycott of just one of them. It doesn’t matter which bank–Chase, Wells, or BofA would all be good candidates. Their services are so similar that each consumer at the chosen target could easily obtain comparable services from another provider, with little inconvenience. It wouldn’t take long to send a deafening message that the political power of the banks is no match for the economic power of the great mass of consumers.

  18. Steve C. says:

    Obvious to me what is going on, they are building a parallel economic system based on crypto-currencies, and many, many new blockchain based business right alongside the currently failing system. Many see it which is why most with solid business ideas in this sector are exploding right now.

    As for Trump, I can only speculate. My guess, is we are near the end, and he wants all the people truly responsible in his cabinet when it comes down, so he can shift the blame to them, and replace them when its time to rebuild.

    Just my 2 cents

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