Top US financial regulators assured Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin during a hastily organised call Monday that they are seeing nothing out of the ordinary in markets, according to a person with knowledge of the discussion, despite a recent stock slump that many traders tied to the US government shutdown and turmoil emanating from the Trump administration.
The call with the President’s Working Group on financial markets, a move that appeared designed to calm nerves, capped a chaotic five days that started with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announcing his resignation and culminated with Bloomberg News reporting Friday evening that President Donald Trump was discussing firing Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index slipped by as much 2 percent on Monday.
Joining Mnuchin on Monday’s call were officials from the Fed, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The regulators briefed the Treasury Secretary on how they would monitor markets during the shutdown, as the SEC and CFTC will be dealing with curtailed operations, said the person who asked not be be named because they weren’t authorised to speak publicly.
Mnuchin announced the President’s Working Group call in a Sunday afternoon tweet, in which he also revealed that he had reached out to the chief executive officers of the nation’s six largest banks to inquire about market conditions. Mnuchin said the bankers “confirmed they have ample liquidity available for lending to consumer, business markets, and all other market operations.”
The phone calls raised some eyebrows, with traders questioning why Mnuchin was bringing up bank liquidity when no one had expressed concerns over the issue. Holding what seemed like an emergency discussion with financial regulators one day before markets close for the Christmas holiday also risked triggering anxieties.
The President’s Working Group on financial markets, a panel created in the aftermath of the Crash of 1987, doesn’t meet regularly. Instead, the Fed, SEC, CFTC and other agencies convene through the Financial Stability Oversight Council, a watchdog created after the 2008 financial crisis that Mnuchin chairs. That interagency group known as FSOC just met last week and didn’t express particular concern over markets or bank liquidity.
Market regulators’ job is further complicated by the government shutdown. Essential functions continue at the SEC and CFTC, but most employees at both agencies weren’t allowed to report to work Monday as Congress and Trump continue to fight over funding for a wall he wants built along the U.S.-Mexico border.
(With assistance from Saleha Mohsin.)