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The 5 Dumbest Things on Wall Street: Oct. 14

3. Volcker Rule Ridiculousness

As it pertains to the so-called "Volcker Rule," we'll just borrow Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous line about pornography and say, 'We'll know a proprietary trade when we see it.'

Or maybe we won't. We have no idea.

Nevertheless, one thing we do know after thumbing through the 300-plus page monstrosity federal regulators released Tuesday is that the Goldman Sachs (GS - Get Report) legal team has undoubtedly already devised ways to hop through the loopholes in this ridiculous regulation so the bank's vaunted prop desks can continue to bet the house. Or bet somebody else's house. Or whatever vampire squids bet on these days.

Sadly, it was all supposed to be so simple. Respected on both sides of the aisle, former Fed chief Paul Volcker put forth the proposition that big financial companies be restricted from trading their own accounts, thereby eliminating an element of the moral hazards that led to the massive government bailouts at places like AIG (AIG - Get Report) and Bear Stearns.

But then the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve, Comptroller of the Currency and the FDIC took over and this committee turned this supposedly simple horse into one cock-eyed camel. Regulators have a mind-numbing 400 questions about the material and the comment period has been lengthened to accommodate all the parties seeking to skewer it to bits.

The majority of those questions will most certainly involve the trading "exemptions" from the Volcker Rule and what "short term" actually means. And it's this timing issue which will determine whether Wall Street's biggest banks will need to seriously restructure themselves and excise their profitable in-house casinos.

The authors of the rule kept the terminology vague when it comes to the duration of a trade, realizing that one firm's hedge is another bank's high frequency trade. Unfortunately, by wording the document so ambiguously, it becomes easier for a bank to argue that a trade is not in violation of the Volcker Rule, and harder for a regulator to contend that it is.

You know, it's kind of like when another famous government employee once said: "It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is."

Boy, that guy really had a way with words.
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