On Wednesday, a Senate Banking subcommittee will consider bank-merger policy, surely providing a platform for its chair, Sen. Warren’s pronounced views opposing all but the smallest bank mergers and maybe not even those. Many other senators are not as adamant, but even pro-business Republicans – see J.D. Vance – think bank mergers beyond the itty-bitty are at best problematic. The politics of this debate is obvious; the substance not so much. As with many other questions, bank-merger policy is best set with a keen understanding of recent, objective research and what it actually says about concentration as it occurs outside the gaze of those fearful only of still bigger big banks.
That there is undue market power in a financialized economy that brings a raft of woes is all too clear. I thus hoped that Assistant Attorney General Kanter’s remarks last month would be a meaningful update of the Department of Justice’s anachronistic 1995 policy. It helped, but only a bit because Mr. Kanter focused principally on enforcement, leaving “broader” questions solely to the banking agencies.
They in turn have long promised a transparent merger policy, but it’s still deal-by-deal, case-by-case, crisis-by-crisis. More than a few mid-sized banks will wither away as deliberations continue because the sheer uncertainty and delays of most bank mergers undermine their economic value, particularly at a time of high interest rates, slow or no growth, tough new rules, and withering competition.
Recent antitrust research does not substantiate easy, blanket assertions about the benefits or …