Federal government mum on whether it will support Island rail proposal – Business News

Christopher Rugaber And Fatima Hussein, The Associated Press – Mar 14, 2023 / 5:15 pm | Story: 416113

The Federal Reserve is facing stinging criticism for missing what observers say were clear signs that Silicon Valley Bank was at high risk of collapsing into the second-largest bank failure in U.S. history.

Critics point to many red flags surrounding the bank, including its rapid growth since the pandemic, its unusually high level of uninsured deposits and its many investments in long-term government bonds and mortgage-backed securities, which tumbled in value as interest rates rose.

“It’s inexplicable how the Federal Reserve supervisors could not see this clear threat to the safety and soundness of banks and to financial stability,” said Dennis Kelleher, chief executive of Better Markets, an advocacy group.

Wall Street traders and industry analysts “have been publicly screaming about these very issues for many, many months going back to last fall,” Kelleher added.

The Fed was the primary federal supervisor of the bank based in Santa Clara, California, that failed last week. The bank was also overseen by the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation.

Now the consequences of the fall of Silicon Valley Bank, along with New York-based Signature Bank, which failed over the weekend, are complicating the Fed’s upcoming decisions about how high to raise its benchmark interest rate in the fight against chronically high inflation.

Many economists say the central bank would likely have raised rates by an aggressive half-point next week at its meeting, which would amount to a step up in its inflation fight, after the Fed implemented a quarter-point hike in February. Its rate currently stands at about 4.6%, the highest level in 15 years.

Last week, many economists suggested that Fed policymakers would raise their projection for future rates next week to 5.6%. Now it’s suddenly unclear how many additional rate increases the Fed will forecast.

With the collapse of the two large banks fueling anxiety about other regional banks, the Fed may focus more on boosting confidence in the financial system than on its long-term drive to tame inflation.

The latest government report on inflation, released Tuesday, shows that price increases remain far higher than the Fed prefers, putting Chair Jerome Powell in a tougher spot. Core prices, which exclude volatile food and energy costs and are seen as a better gauge of longer-run inflation, jumped 0.5% from January to February — the most since September. That is far higher than is consistent with the Fed’s 2% annual target.

“Absent the fallout from the bank failure, it may have been a close call, but I think it would have tipped them towards a half-point (rate hike) at this meeting,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief economist at Nationwide.

On Monday, Powell announced that the Fed would review its supervision of Silicon Valley to understand how it might have better managed its regulation of the bank. The review will be conducted by Michael Barr, the Fed vice chair who oversees bank oversight, and will be publicly released May 1.

A Federal Reserve spokesperson declined to comment further.

Elizabeth Smith, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation, said, “We are actively investigating the situation and conducting a thorough review to ensure the Department is doing everything we can to protect Californians.”

By all accounts, Silicon Valley was an unusual bank. Its management took excessive risks by buying billions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities and Treasury bonds when interest rates were low. As the Fed continually raised interest rates to fight inflation, leading to higher rates on Treasurys, the value of Silicon Valley Bank’s bonds steadily lost value.

Most banks would have sought to make other investments to offset that risk. The Fed could have also forced the bank to raise additional capital.

The bank had grown rapidly. Its assets quadrupled in five years to $209 billion, making it the 16th-largest bank in the country. And roughly 94% of its deposits were uninsured because they exceeded the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s $250,000 insurance cap.

That percentage was the second highest among banks with more than $50 billion in assets, according to ratings agency S&P. Signature had the fourth-highest percentage of uninsured deposits.

Such an unusually high proportion made Silicon Valley Bank highly susceptible to the risk that depositors would quickly withdraw their money at the first sign of trouble — a classic bank run — which is exactly what happened.

“I’m at a loss for words to understand how this business model was deemed acceptable by their regulators,” said Aaron Klein, a former congressional aide, now at the Brookings Institution, who worked on the Dodd-Frank banking regulation law that was passed after the 2008 financial crisis.

The bank failures will likely color an upcoming Fed review of rules that set out how much money large banks must hold in reserve. Barr said last year that he wanted to conduct a “holistic” review of those requirements, raising concerns in the banking industry that the review would lead to rules forcing banks to hold more reserves, which would limit their ability to lend.

Many critics also point to a 2018 law as softening bank regulations in ways that contributed to Silicon Valley’s failure. Pushed by the Trump administration with bipartisan support in Congress, the law exempted banks with $100 billion to $250 billion in assets — Silicon Valley’s size — from requirements that included regular examinations of how they would fare in tough economic times, known as “stress tests.”

Silicon Valley’s CEO, Greg Becker, had lobbied Congress in support of the rollback in regulations, and he served on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco until the day of the collapse.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, asked him him about his lobbying in a letter released Tuesday.

“These rules were designed to safeguard our banking system and economy from the negligence of bank executives like yourself — and their rollback, along with atrocious risk management policies at your bank, have been implicated as chief causes of its failure,” Warren’s letter said.

The 2018 law also provided the Fed with more discretion in its bank oversight. The central bank subsequently voted to further reduce regulation for banks the size of Silicon Valley.

In October 2019, the Fed voted to effectively reduce the capital those banks had to hold in reserve.

Kelleher said the Fed still could have pushed Silicon Valley Bank to take steps to protect itself.

“Nothing in that law prevented in any way the Federal Reserve supervisors from doing their job,” Kelleher said.

The Canadian Press – Mar 14, 2023 / 2:05 pm | Story: 416059

The leasing company that seized four planes from Flair Airlines over the weekend says the carrier “regularly” missed payments over the past five months.

Flair found itself down by more than a fifth of its fleet after the Boeing 737 Maxes were confiscated by Airborne Capital Inc. on Saturday, forcing the airline to cancel multiple flights.

Flair has deemed the actions “extreme and unusual,” with CEO Stephen Jones telling reporters Monday the company is now 100 per cent caught up after being “a few days in arrears” with about $1 million owing on the jetliners.

Jones also claimed the seizure was the result of another carrier’s attempt to undermine Flair following “behind the scenes” negotiations between a major Canadian airline and Airborne Capital.

In a statement, the Dublin-based company says it “strongly rejects the allegations” by Flair, and that it reclaimed the planes after a five-month period when Flair frequently failed to meet its monthly payments, amounting to “millions of dollars.”

Plane leases are an increasingly hot commodity amid supply bottlenecks and high demand, but Airborne Capital says it expects “material losses” linked to the repossession and remarketing of the aircraft.

The Associated Press – Mar 14, 2023 / 7:01 am | Story: 415961

App-based ride hailing and delivery companies like Uber and Lyft can continue to treat their California drivers as independent contractors, a state appeals court ruled Monday, allowing the tech giants to bypass other state laws requiring worker protections and benefits.

The ruling mostly upholds a voter-approved law, called Proposition 22, that said drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft are independent contractors and are not entitled to benefits like paid sick leave and unemployment insurance. A lower court ruling in 2021 had said Proposition 22 was illegal, but Monday’s ruling reversed that decision.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for app-based workers and the millions of Californians who voted for Prop 22,” said Tony West, Uber’s chief legal officer. ”We’re pleased that the court respected the will of the people.”

The ruling is a defeat for labor unions and their allies in the state Legislature who passed a law in 2019 requiring companies like Uber and Lyft to treat their drivers as employees.

“Today the Appeals Court chose to stand with powerful corporations over working people, allowing companies to buy their way out of our state’s labor laws and undermine our state constitution,” said Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, leader of the California Labor Federation and a former state assemblywoman who authored the 2019 law. “Our system is broken. It would be an understatement to say we are disappointed by this decision.”

The ruling wasn’t a complete defeat for labor unions, as the court ruled the companies could not stop their drivers from joining a labor union and collectively bargain for better working conditions, said Mike Robinson, one of the drivers who filed the lawsuit challenging Proposition 22.

“Our right to join together and bargain collectively creates a clear path for drivers and delivery workers to hold giant gig corporations accountable,” he said. “But make no mistake, we still believe Prop 22 — in its entirety — is an unconstitutional attack on our basic rights.”

The California Legislature passed a law in 2019 that changed the rules of who is an employee and who is an independent contractor. It’s an important distinction for companies because employees are covered by a broad range of labor laws that guarantee them certain benefits while independent contractors are not.

While the law applied to lots of industries, it had the biggest impact on app-based ride hailing and delivery companies. Their business relies on contracting with people to use their own cars to give people rides and make deliveries. Under the 2019 law, companies would have to treat those drivers as employees and provide certain benefits that would greatly increase the businesses’ expenses.

In November 2020, voters agreed to exempt app-based ride hailing and delivery companies from the 2019 law by approving a ballot proposition. The proposition included “alternative benefits” for drivers, including a guaranteed minimum wage and subsidies for health insurance if they average 25 hours of work a week. Companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash spent $200 million on a campaign to make sure it would pass.

Three drivers and the Service Employees International Union sued, arguing the ballot proposition was illegal in part because it limited the state Legislature’s authority to change the law or pass laws about workers’ compensation programs. In 2021, a state judge agreed with them and ruled companies like Uber and Lyft were not exempt.

Monday, a state appeals court reversed that decision, allowing the companies to continue to treat their drivers as independent contractors.

The ruling might not be the final decision. The Service Employees International Union could still appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court, which could decide to hear the case.

“We will consider all those options as we decide how to ensure we continue fighting for these workers,” said Tia Orr, executive director of SEIU California.

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