The Obama administration is definitely picking winners and losers for the post-crash economy — and one of the biggest winners is BlackRock, the money management firm advising the United States on restructuring the banking sector.
Its role has grown so large that some in Congress now wonder if it’s wise to allow a single private group to oversee so much, and if it can set prices on troubled assets in a way that isn’t automatically self-serving?
"They have access to information when the Federal Reserve will try to sell securities, and what price they will accept. And they have intricate financial relations with people across the globe," Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, told The New York Times.
"The potential for a conflict of interest is great."
According to a report in The New York Times, BlackRock began business in a one-room office 21 years ago and now manages $1.3 trillion in assets for sophisticated clients, including hedge funds and foreign governments.
BlackRock now manages mortgage assets once owned by Bear Stearns Cos. and American International Group Inc. The firm also has been selected to analyze the nearly inscrutable assets of Freddie Mac and Morgan Stanley, among other financial institutions in the continuing financial crisis, reports The Wall Street Journal.
Additionally, the U.S. Treasury Department has granted BlackRock a chance to become one of a small number of money managers that can buy toxic assets taken over by the government, the Journal reports.
BlackRock also won a competition to carry out a Federal Reserve Bank program to stimulate the moribund housing market.
The conduct of the federal government, and BlackRock, is furrowing eyebrows in Congress.
Tough questions are finally being asked: Can a company that is being compensated to price and sell troubled assets for the government purchase the same kinds of assets for private clients without showing preference?
And, should the government seek advice from a firm whose clients stand to make or lose billions if those policies are enacted?
"We have a two-decade record of managing conflicts, which is why we have been hired by many global institutions and governments," Larry Fink, BlackRock’s chairman and chief executive, told The Wall Street Journal.
"Our clients trust us."
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