Five Years After Lehman, Is Wall Street Any Safer?

Five years ago this week, the storied Wall Street firm Lehman Brothers collapsed, heralding the true onslaught of the Great Recession. Has the system been "fixed" since then?

Don't ask me, I work for Gawker.com! However, we can safely say that among the sort of experts who drove the financial system into the Great Recession in the first place, opinion is mixed.

Is Wall Street Less Risky Now?

Yes, says the Wall Street Journal, citing the reformation of Morgan Stanley as a shining example:

The firm also has changed in less noticeable ways. There now are 3,000 different limits that restrict such things as how much capital traders can put at risk, up from 30 before the crisis. About 50 full-time government regulators are now stationed at Morgan Stanley. There were none before 2008, when it was regulated as a brokerage firm instead of a bank. Most deals over $10 million now require a green light from a risk committee and [CEO James] Gorman...

Mr. Gorman's supporters say the firm is setting an example after Wall Street's years of excess, forging a business that more closely resembles the banking industry's old model of eschewing risky bets and collecting reliable fees.

Somewhat, says Bloomberg, in an exhaustive story that outlines the (slow) progress of various post-recession regulatory reforms, while noting that the "Too Big to Fail" problem still clearly exists—and that some on Wall Street are happy to let it remain that way.

“It’s just a reality of the world we live in, and how global and how interrelated it is,” said [former Goldman Sachs exec Daniel] Neidich, CEO of New York-based Dune Real Estate Partners LP. “The benefits that all of that interconnectedness has created are tremendous.” [...]

[Government regulators' plan to wind down the big banks in case of emergency] could fail if some of the world’s largest banks implode simultaneously. Regulators aren’t sure their plan to keep banks’ derivatives-trading partners and lenders from pulling out collateral in a run will work, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.

Not really, Credit Suisse CEO Brady Dougan tells the FT, because the risk has just been pushed elsewhere:

However, the 54-year-old investment banker, who has been with Credit Suisse for 23 years, warns not to confuse sounder banks with a safer financial system. “Some amount of risk has gone away because some activities are not being undertaken any more. But also a fair amount of risk has been transferred to other parts of the system, areas like shadow banking, insurance companies, pension funds or retail investors,” he says.

In any case, Wall Street can take heart in the fact that it is resoundingly winning the class war.

[Photo: David Shankbone/ Flickr]