BlackRock's Fink Sounds Conflicted on Volcker

NEW YORK ( TheStreet)--The Volcker Rule, "may be in the interest of society," according to BlackRock Inc. ( BLK) Chairman and CEO Larry Fink, whose company has opposed many key provisions of the rule.

The Volcker Rule, named after former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, intends to place strict limits on risky trading and investing by banks. The rule is still being finalized, and while proponents, including Senators Carl Levin (D., Mich.) and Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.) argue the rule has too many loopholes, big banks including JPMorgan Chase ( JPM), and Goldman Sachs ( JPM) say it is far too restrictive.
Larry Fink the public citizen finds himself at odds with Larry Fink the BlackRock CEO.

Asked about the possibility of a "more Draconian" Volcker Rule during BlackRock's first quarter earnings call on Wednesday, Fink said, "I hope it's not. That's not in our interest as investors. It may be in the interest of society. But there is a fundamental cost with that and investors are going to have to pay for that."

That view--that the Volcker Rule "may be in the interest of society"--did not find its way into BlackRock's BlackRock's Feb. 13 comment letter on the rule to U.S. financial regulators.

The letter, signed by government relations chief Barbara Novick and general counsel Matthew Mallow but not by Fink, warns that "to the extent the Volcker Rule constrains asset management and trading activities of U.S. banks and their affiliates without any commensurate benefit to taxpayers and to the economy, it will limit U.S. banks' competitiveness and ultimately weaken the very system it was designed to protect."

Fink's personal view, then, may be slightly at odds with the official position of BlackRock. Or maybe Fink the public citizen finds himself at odds with Fink the financial services CEO. Regardless, it is not the first time Fink has broken with financial services industry orthodoxy.

For example, BlackRock has been far more willing to embrace proposed money market reforms than peers such as Fidelity Investments and Federated Investors ( FII), which seem to think they can defy the will of the Federal Reserve by insisting that no further changes are needed to an industry that lost $310 billion, or 15% of its assets during the week of Sept. 15, 2008.

"It is our position that if we do not work together with the SEC on money market reform, the Financial Stability Oversight Council will make it for us," Fink said Wednesday.

When it comes to money market reform, Fink is being a good citizen, but he is also being pragmatic. He simply has more vision than his peers. He sees that reforms are inevitable, so he figures might as well be part of the discussion. When it comes to the Volcker Rule, however, Fink the citizen will have to try and keep his mouth shut. Fink the CEO has decided this is a fight that he can win.

-- Written by Dan Freed in New York.

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