Most of us probably still don’t completely understand exactly what caused the 2008 financial crisis.

We do know we lost a big junk of our 401(k) retirement savings — I know a third of mine evaporated — and that no one went to jail.

That is important to remember.

More stringent financial regulations were put in place in the wake of the financial collapse — the Dodd-Frank Reform and Consumer Protection Act was passed in 2010 — and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created to hold Wall Street institutions accountable.

The past 10 years have been a slow, gradual economic recovery, and most of our 401(k) savings have been restored.

Dodd-Frank worked.

But over the past two years, the Trump administration, has gone on a deregulation crusade to remove many of the financial protections for consumers.

The Consumer Financial Protection Agency with Mick Mulvaney in charge — you may have heard of him since he is now the president’s acting chief of staff — defanged the agency and rolled back enforcements on the Wall Street millionaires.

In recent months, the alarms bells are ringing about the proliferation of “leveraged loans” with many experts stressing the similarities with the abuse of sub-prime loans that led to the financial collapse in 2008.

Yes, we are back here again.

“Leveraged loans” are extended to companies or individuals that already have considerable amounts of debt, or a poor credit history. These loans carry a higher risk of default and are more costly to the borrower.

So while cable news channels were entertaining its viewers with the Capitol Hill staredown between Rep. Maxine Waters and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin during a hearing over the president’s tax returns, what the Financial Services Committee should have been asking about was “leveraged loans.”

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown wrote in a letter to Mnuchin this week that the Financial Stability Oversight Council — which Mnuchin oversees — have backed away from previous standards in constraining leveraged lending.

Brown pointed out that, “International regulators have raised concerns that poor underwriting standards, rapid growth and increased risk-taking” — Does any of this sound familiar? — “mirrors subprime mortgage lending and might have far-reaching economic consequences.”

Bloomberg news reported recently that Fed Chairman Jerome Powell says that leveraged loans aren’t threatening the U.S. Banking system yet, but it does pose a “macroeconomic risk” if the economy takes a turn for the worse.

“Regulators should sound the alarm,” former Fed Chair Janet Yellen told Bloomberg news last September. “They should make it clear to the public and the Congress there are things they are concerned about and they don’t have the tools to fix it.”

The market of leveraged loans is now more than $1 trillion, which is far smaller than the market for subprime loans 10 years ago, but more than 80% of the the loans in both the United States and Europe are what is called “covenant lite” which means they lack safeguards for creditors. As recent as 2011, that figure was 23%.

Wall Street appears to be rolling the dice again.

Back in 2013, government entities were issuing banks guidance on how much they could risk, but Bloomberg reports that strong opposition from Wall Street lobbyists, Republican lawmakers and Trump administration officials led to a ruling by the Government Accountability Office that reining in banks was an overreach.

That left banks free to do what they wanted without fear of government penalties.

Administration officials insist there is nothing wrong and see no reason to tighten the regulations.

But Bloomberg reports that the International Monetary Fund found a lot of “market excesses and declining protections for investors.”

Just this past week, Rep. Jim Himes asked a panel of seven CEOs what could threaten the U.S. Financial system.

“Leveraged lending and student lending, which is growing rapidly and deteriorating very rapidly,” J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimond said. “But there’s more and more direct lending being done in separate vehicles that’s not regulated, not scrutinized.”

Ultimately, that is our 401(k) money and it’s being gambled again.

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Ken Tingley is editor of The Post-Star and may be reached via email at tingley@poststar.com.


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