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Trump administration calls for rolling back Obama-era financial regulations

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The Treasury Department on Friday recommended rolling back key parts of Obama-era regulations on Wall Street, including a requirement that companies disclose the pay gap between chief executives and their employees.

The report is the second of four ordered by President Trump to review the banking rules that the White House says have hampered economic growth. Broadly, the report recommends making it easier for companies to go public and streamlining regulations of key parts of the financial markets.

“The U.S. has experienced slow economic growth for far too long,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “By streamlining the regulatory system, we can make the U.S. capital markets a true source of economic growth which will harness American ingenuity and allow small businesses to grow.”

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For example, the report calls on Congress to repeal several provisions of the 2010 financial reform legislation known as Dodd-Frank, including one that requires companies to disclose the pay gap between CEOs and workers. Republicans have long objected to the rule, and Jay Clayton, chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, ordered a review of the rule after taking office in May.

Those types of rules, the report says, discourages companies from going public. “Such requirements impose significant costs upon the public companies that are widely held by all investors,” the report says, noting that the number of publicly listed companies has declined 50 percent over the past 20 years.

The report also recommends easing the burdens faced by companies considering an initial public offering. Companies should be able to privately discuss a potential IPO with likely shareholders before making a public filing with regulators, the Treasury Department says. “This ability is known as 'testing the waters,' which allows a company to gauge investor interest in a potential offering before undertaking the expense of preparing a registration statement,” the report says.

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But the report also includes recommendations that could make it easier for small companies to stay private. A small company could raise more money, $5 million instead of $1 million, through crowdfunding within a year without having to go public, under the Treasury Department's recommendations.

Treasury also calls for “recalibrating” the rules governing the vast market for derivatives, a financial instrument that helped fuel the global financial crisis. The SEC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, another financial regulator, should work together to harmonize rules governing these complex markets, the report says

Marcus Stanley, policy director for Americans for Financial Reform, expressed concern about the report's guidance. “The recommendations are “almost uniformly deregulatory,” he said. “It is written pretty technically, but what they are saying is that a lot of things that were done after the crisis to try increase our safety margins and improve our risk control on derivatives they want to cut back on.”

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The SEC's Clayton and Brian Quintenz, head of the CFTC, both issued statements supportive of the call for simplifying rules around derivatives. “Derivatives are used in virtually every segment of the U.S. and global economies, covering nearly every conceivable type of commodity,” Quintenz said. “It is for this reason that it is so important that we get the oversight of these markets right.”

The report comes at a time when Republican efforts to roll back financial regulations have withered on Capitol Hill. The House passed sweeping legislation that would gut key parts of Dodd-Frank in June, but the Senate has yet to take up similar legislation, and with lawmakers preoccupied with tax reform it is not likely to emerge before the end of the year.

The Treasury Department report, which would require some congressional action but could mostly be done by regulators, is likely to be heralded by Republicans and business groups who have argued that Dodd-Frank went too far after the Great Recession. The report “offers a blueprint to unlock the resources needed to spur economic growth and job creation,” said David Hirschmann of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But Democrats and consumer advocates have argued that rolling back financial regulations could put taxpayers in danger of having to bail out industries again.