US regulators lift strict oversight of Prudential

FILE - In this file photo taken Aug. 2, 2005, a Prudential Financial sign on the marquis direct customers to the company inside an office building in Salt Lake City. A group of federal regulators has lifted the strict government oversight imposed on big insurer Prudential Financial Inc. It was the last financial company still carrying the label that subjected it to special restrictions stemming from the 2008 financial crisis. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac, File)

WASHINGTON — A group of federal regulators on Wednesday lifted the strict government oversight imposed on big insurer Prudential Financial Inc. It was the last financial company still carrying the label that subjected it to special restrictions stemming from the 2008 financial crisis.

The unanimous decision by the Financial Stability Oversight Council closed the books on its actions tagging selected big financial companies as potential threats. It was the latest example in the Trump administration's push to unwind Obama-era regulatory requirements aimed at averting another financial meltdown.

The council tagged Prudential in 2013 as a "systemically important" institution, one so big and interconnected that it would threaten the financial system's stability if it collapsed. The action put Prudential under special supervision by the Federal Reserve.

The council is led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and includes Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Jay Clayton, chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Those officials and six of the other seven members were appointed by President Donald Trump.

The council was created and empowered by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law to cast eyes across the financial system to watch for potential threats. It also was empowered to collar some large financial companies with tighter scrutiny to avert a "too-big-to-fail" situation — when the government is forced to rescue them to head off a broader economic collapse.

Mnuchin said the decision on Prudential "follows extensive engagement with the company and a detailed analysis showing that there is not a significant risk that the company could pose a threat to financial stability."

"The council has continued to act decisively to remove any designation that is not warranted," he said in a statement.

But Better Markets, an investor advocate group, called the action "a tragic dereliction of duty for every American, because the next financial crash will happen sooner and be worse than it otherwise would have been."

Prudential, based in Newark, New Jersey, is the biggest life insurance company in the U.S., with operations around the world. It runs retirement and investment management businesses, with $1.4 trillion in assets under management, as well as individual life and group insurance coverage. For 2017, the company reported net income of $7.86 billion.

Prudential had argued that it doesn't pose a risk to financial stability and was unfairly targeted for burdensome and costly extra layers of oversight.

"This outcome reflects Prudential's sustainable business model, capital strength and comprehensive risk management," the company said in a statement Wednesday.

Insurance companies generally are supervised by state regulators. In addition to being put under Federal Reserve supervision, companies labeled "systemically important" could be required to boost their cash cushions against losses, limit their use of borrowed money and submit to inspections by government examiners.

After GE Capital and American International Group had shed billions of dollars in assets, the regulators removed the "systemically important" label from GE Capital, the finance arm of General Electric, in June 2016, and from giant insurer AIG in September 2017.

AIG received the biggest taxpayer bailout of the crisis — $182 billion — which it repaid in full by 2012.

Insurer MetLife took the government to court to fight the label, and won in March 2016. The government appealed. After the Trump administration came in, however, the government's appeal was dropped. The two sides agreed in January to abandon the court battle, leaving MetLife free of the designation.

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