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RIP: Last of the investment banks

By Martin Crutsinger,
September 23, 2008 16:01 IST
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It was the end of an era on Wall Street as the Federal Reserve granted permission for the last two major investment banks -- Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley -- to become bank holding companies in order to stay in business.

The Fed announced late Sunday evening that it had approved the request, which will allow Goldman and Morgan Stanley to create commercial banks that can take deposits, bolstering the resources of both institutions.

The change is the latest seismic shift on Wall Street as the financial system tries to cope with mounting problems that began more than a year ago with the subprime mortgage crisis.

Shares of Morgan Stanley slipped 3.3 percent and Goldman's fell 2.8 percent in premarket electronic trading on Monday. Overall, U.S. stocks appeared headed for a slightly lower opening as investors remained nervous about the U.S. government's plan to buy $700 billion in soured bank mortgage debt.

After weekend meetings where the Treasury Department, Fed and congressional staff ironed out the program's details, Sen. Christopher Dodd said Monday it's equally important to act responsibly as it is to move quickly on the legislation needed to stabilize the country's troubled financial markets.

Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking committee, said on CBS's "The Early Show" that many members of Congress believe a legislative relief package also should be tailored to protect taxpayers in the best way possible.

Democrats in Congress said they will add provisions in the bailout measure to protect people in danger of losing their homes and measures to cap executive compensation at firms who get to unload their bad mortgages debt onto the government.

But the proposal is still expected to win quick congressional passage because both parties are concerned about the adverse reaction in financial markets should the measure look like it is being delayed.

The Fed's board of governors granted the investment banks' requests by unanimous vote during a late Sunday meeting in Washington.

The change of status means both companies will come under the direct regulation of the Fed, which oversees the nation's bank holding companies. The banking subsidiaries of the two institutions will face the stricter regulations that commercial banks are required to meet. Previously, the primary regulator for Goldman and Morgan Stanley was the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Shares of both institutions had come under pressure ever since the bankruptcy filing last week by investment bank Lehman Brothers and the forced sale of investment bank Merrill Lynch to Bank of America.

Three people familiar with the matter said Monday that Japan's largest brokerage Nomura Holdings is buying Lehman's Asian assets. Britains Barclay's Bank received bankruptcy court approval early Saturday morning to purchase Lehman's North American brokerage operations.

Investors feared that the last remaining independent investment banks would not be able to survive in their current form, especially after hedge funds saw some of their funds at Lehman Brothers frozen as part of its bankruptcy. There had been speculation that both institutions would be acquired by commercial banks, whose ability to take deposits would give them a stable source of funding.

In the surprise announcement late Sunday, the central bank said Goldman and Morgan Stanley would be allowed during a transition period to get short-term loans from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York against various types of collateral.

The Fed said its action would take final effect after a five-day waiting period required under law.

The decision means that Goldman and Morgan Stanley will be able not only to set up commercial bank subsidiaries to take deposits, giving them a major resource base, but they will also have the same access as other commercial banks to the Fed's emergency loan program.

After the collapse of Bear Stearns and its forced sale to JP Morgan Chase last March, the Fed used powers it had been granted during the Great Depression to extend its emergency loans to investment banks as well as commercial banks. However, that extension was granted on a temporary basis.

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