Statement by David W. Mullins, Jr., Vice Chairman, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, before the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, U.S. House of Representatives, March 17, 1993

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I welcome this opportunity to discuss legislative initiatives concerning the government securities market. By my count, this marks the ninth time since Salomon Brothers' admission of wrongdoing that I have delivered testimony on this subject before a congressional panel. In my view, enough is at stake, particularly in terms of financing the federal deficit, to warrant this close scrutiny. The interest cost of the federal debt depends on the rates when securities are first auctioned, while this committee's mandate concerns secondary market trading in government securities. But that is not a realistic distinction in practice because the Treasury's ability to tap funding sources in the primary market depends critically on the assurance of smooth trading in the secondary market.

DEVELOPMENTS SINCE AUGUST 1991

Over the past one and one-half years, the Board of Governors, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY), the Treasury, and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), among others, have devoted considerable attention to the government securities market. An important initial product of that work was the Joint Report on the Government Securities Market, which contained a comprehensive survey of the market and a detailed plan for correcting the problems that had been identified. Much of the plan delineated in the report has been put in place. After having consulted with the other agencies, the Treasury implemented redesigned auction procedures and rules to eliminate the possibility of a recurrence of the abuses committed in the Salomon Brothers episode. With the help of staff members at the New York Fed and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the Board, the Treasury, and the SEC formed an Interagency Working Group on Market Surveillance. As a result, enforcement responsibilities and procedures have been clarified and intensified. After careful study, the Treasury commenced a yearlong experiment with auction technique, and the FRBNY has made considerable progress in automating the auction process. In addition, the New York Fed has adopted changes in the administration of its relationship with primary dealers and is in the process of revising the information that it collects from them.

Meanwhile, staff members at the various agencies, as well as academic researchers, have studied the relationship between prices in the cash and financing markets. This research has produced techniques to identify rate anomalies that could be associated with squeezes. And the Treasury has shown a willingness to act through supply management when market prices suggest a serious shortage. Last year, one issue, a ten-year note, was reopened under the policy articulated in the Joint Report for addressing an "acute, protracted" shortage. Under the threat of Treasury reopenings, no market participant can be confident of profiting by cornering the market in a Treasury issue. Thus, the government securities market has already been subject to substantial change and to intensified scrutiny on an ongoing basis.

This extensive, in-depth analysis has increased my respect and appreciation for this financial marketplace. In this regard, the U.S. government securities market has no rival. This market is the deepest and broadest of all securities markets, offering widespread economic benefits by permitting transactions of enormous size to be conducted at razor-thin bid-ask spreads. In general, the governmental initiatives undertaken to date with respect to this market have not been intrusive or especially costly and thus have been consistent with its continued efficiency.

WHAT IS NEEDED

In weighing the need for additional legislation, the Board of Governors believes that the best, most efficient, and equitable laws and regulations are drawn up to address specific problems. This is why, in the Board's view, the timely enactment of the legislative agenda outlined in the Joint Report would serve the nation's interest. …