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CNN Truth Squad: Banks still 'too big to fail?'

By Matt Smith, CNN
updated 1:17 AM EST, Thu November 10, 2011

(CNN) -- The statement:

"We have six banks in this country that combined have assets worth 66% of our nation's GDP, $9.4 trillion. These institutions get hit, they have an implied bailout by the taxpayers in this country, and that means that we are setting ourselves up for disaster again."

-- Jon Huntsman, former Utah governor and ambassador to China, during Wednesday night's CNBC debate in Rochester, Michigan.

The facts:

-- The top six U.S. financial institutions are Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, according to federal bank examiners. They have a combined $9.4 trillion in assets, an amount equivalent to two-thirds of the $15 trillion U.S. economy.

-- The "implied bailout" Huntsman refers to is the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill that President Barack Obama signed in 2010. In it, the federal government laid out a procedure for winding down a failing institution with more than $50 billion in assets. The idea is to head off a collapse that would cause a systemic crash like the one that loomed in 2008, which triggered the widely criticized federal bank bailout.

-- Supporters of the law sharply dispute the characterization of the Dodd-Frank "orderly liquidation" provision as a bailout. The legislation calls for the sell-off of a mega-bank under federal supervision, not propping it up, and its officers could face lawsuits

-- Dodd-Frank does authorize a so-called bridge loan from the Treasury to keep the banks open during the process. But the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which would oversee the liquidation, gives first priority to paying back the Treasury if that loan is needed.

-- Huntsman went on to call for the biggest banks to be "right-sized" to prevent a systemic crisis like 2008. And he said the government "ought to charge some sort of fee from the banks that mitigates the risk that otherwise the taxpayers are carrying." Dodd-Frank originally included a $50 billion fund for that purpose, paid for by financial institutions. But the fund was dropped during negotiations with Senate Republicans.

The verdict: True, but incomplete///. Huntsman accurately characterizes the scale of the biggest U.S. banks, but the "implied bailout" he refers to is more complex than his remarks at the debate would suggest.

CNN's Katie Glaeser and Amy Roberts contributed to this report.

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