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President Trump: Contemplating an Attack on Big Banks

President Trump: Contemplating an Attack on Big Banks

President Trump told Bloomberg News Monday that he’s thinking about breaking up Wall Street banks. 

On the campaign trial, Trump called to establish a “21st century” version of the Glass-Steagall law. The suggestion was backed by the Republican Party platform. 

“There’s some people that want to go back to the old system, right? So we’re going to look at that,” he said during a 30-minute interview in the Oval Office. 

The Banking Act of 1933, nicknamed after Senator Carter Glass (D-VA) and Rep. Henry Steagall (D-AL), established a legal barrier between consumer lending and investment banking. The law “essentially split banking into two categories: deposit-taking companies backed by taxpayers that primarily made loans to businesses and consumers, and investment banks and insurers that trade and underwrite securities and create or focus on other complex instruments,” writes Bloomberg. 

The law was repealed in 1999, and some have argued that the repeal contributed to the 2008 financial crisis (Wall Street denies this claim).   

Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, both former bankers with Goldman Sachs, have expressed vague support for reinstating some version of the law.

Wall Street doesn’t seem to feel threatened. They see lawmakers weighed down by larger issues like repealing the Affordable Care Act and passing a tax overhaul. They know that a new Glass-Steagall law would have to get through Congress and that it would be an uphill battle. 

When it comes to big banks, Rafferty Capital Markets Dick Bove suggests that the sum of the parts is worth more than the whole. “You might find a lot of investors who say that [if] they’re going to break up these banks, they’re more [valuable] in pieces than they are together, I’m going to buy them.” 

Christopher Whalen, head of Whalen Global Advisors, explains that splitting up big banks could lead to more competition. “If investors could buy a pure-play JPM and not have to own Chase, that’s a much better stock. That’s a stock that trades at 1.5 to 2 times book value instead of 1.” 

During the short interview on Monday, President Trump also suggested that he’s open to the idea of raising the US gas tax to fund infrastructure development. He insisted that truckers wouldn’t mind paying more for gas if the proceeds are dedicated to improving roadways.

We know Trump by now. His negotiating strategy is to create a potential crisis and then allow himself to be talked down to reason. He’s put the big stick on the table. What he seems to want to do is reduce the vulnerability created by the lack of a Glass-Steagall law – and he has banking expert Steven Mnuchin to help him do it. 

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