Federal regulators on Wednesday ruled that General Electric’s lending unit is no longer a threat to the financial system, allowing the conglomerate to escape from additional government oversight measures established to prevent another 2008-style financial crisis.
GE had fought for years to shed its “too big to fail” designation, aggressively shrinking the footprint of its finance business, including selling its credit card unit, and recasting itself as an industrial company that makes airplane engines, trains and other massive manufacturing equipment. On Wednesday, regulators agreed to allow the firm to shed its designation as a “systemically important financial institution” and the regulatory burdens that came with it, including maintaining a bigger financial cushion.
GE Capital is a “smaller, safer financial services company,” said the company’s chairman, Keith Sherin.
This is a major victory for GE and may chart a path forward for other large companies that have operated under tougher government oversight since the financial crisis. It also comes as regulators are under pressure to prove that the systems put in place to prevent future taxpayer bailouts of “too big to fail” institutions are working.
The decision to rescind GE Capital’s additional government oversight “is the result of a methodical analysis of risks that is in keeping with the law and the lessons of the financial crisis,” Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a statement. “GE Capital has made fundamental strategic changes that have resulted in a company that is significantly smaller and safer, with more stable funding.”
The government panel guiding this process, known as the Financial Stability Oversight Council or FSOC, has been under attack on Capitol Hill and in the courts. In Congress, Republicans have argued the panel has too much power and should be reined in.
But an even greater threat to the panel is in the courts. Earlier this year, MetLife won a crucial ruling challenging FSOC’s decision that it too was too big to fail. MetLife, the large insurance company, fought the label from the beginning, arguing FSOC did not properly assess the insurer’s financial strength and that it does not engage in the type of risky behavior that could rattle the economy.
The Treasury Department is fighting the ruling, which public advocates have warned could cripple the government’s ability to prevent another financial crisis.
“Contrary to the nonstop, hysterical claims of industry and its political allies, FSOC has been thorough, deliberative, and fair throughout the designation process, focusing carefully on a rigorous data-driven analysis and clear systemic threats,” said Dennis Kelleher, president of Better Markets, a financial markets public interest group.