With Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley becoming commercial banks, and the other three big investment banks/brokerage houses being acquired by commercial banks, politicians and the press won't have Wall Street to kick around anymore. Headlines now shout about a $700 billion "Bailout for Wall Street." Yet strictly speaking, Wall Street as we knew it no longer exists.
The conversion or absorption of all five of Wall Street's big investment banks into commercial banks raises several intriguing issues.
....all the giant financial conglomerates now face oversight and regulation by the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. ....
Wall Street was always a metaphor, of course, but so are words like "bailout" and "toxic" debt. Nationalization of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was a bailout for creditors (who received windfall gains), not for stockholders or executives. The federally enforced shotgun marriage between J.P. Morgan and Bear Stearns at the initially ridiculous price of $2 a share was no bailout for Bear. The 11.3% federal loan to AIG, contingent on the potential expropriation of 80% of shareholder value, is no bailout either.
By contrast, what was done to stop a run on the money-market funds is a real bailout which could encourage them to hold risky paper and also make it tougher for commercial banks to attract deposits. The proposal to buy up mortgage-backed securities is a bailout too, though the beneficiaries are not just the tattered remains of Wall Street. The bailout consists of shifting the risk of loss to taxpayers. Actual losses could not reach $700 billion unless the securities were literally worthless, which would mean the value of the underlying real estate fell to zero.
What was "toxic" for investment banks is not equally toxic for the Treasury Department because the government does not even bother to keep a balance sheet, much less abide by mark-to-market accounting rules. A powerful motive for converting investment banks into commercial banks is to get around those onerous balance-sheet rules that required fire-sale pricing of securities that were virtually unmarketable during a panicky scramble for liquidity.