Dow Rises as Big Banks Take Center Stage

Markets are looking spiffy this morning, with both the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) and the S&P 500 in the green, up respectively by 0.25% and 0.07% in late morning. Among the big gainers are Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS  ) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) , as talk about "too big to fail" dominates the banking news.

In world economic news, things are looking up following the Chinese Communist Party's Third Plenum, which originally disappointed investors looking for a bold declaration of planned economic reforms. The vaguely worded synopsis following the meeting was uninspiring, but later developments have shown that changes are indeed on the table.

The document outlining these changes is extremely long -- 20,000 words, according to The New York Times -- so fast-paced reforms are probably not in the cards. Still, investors may be happy that some kind of plan, albeit a long-term one, is in place.

Big banks are in the spotlight -- again
The nation's biggest banks have been front and center as a Government Accountability Office report examines the breadth of subsidies the sector has enjoyed since the financial crisis. The report lays out the many programs that helped the bank holding companies weather the fiscal storm, as well as recommending that regulatory restrictions on future bailouts be created and put into effect.

This publication is the first half of the GAO's study of big-bank subsidies, with the second part expected sometime next year. While this portion of the report is less than flattering for these institutions, the second half will actually put numbers to the economic benefits big banks have enjoyed since the crisis -- including a break in borrowing costs tied to creditors' assumption that a government bailout would once again protect the banks if another financial meltdown were to occur.

Not long after the GAO report was announced, Moody's Investor's Service released its latest ratings of big-bank debt, cutting the debt ratings of Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan by one level. Moody's said the assumption of a government backstop is no longer valid, considering the progress being made toward resolving troubled banks without taxpayer assistance. Morgan Stanley and Bank of New York Mellon were also downgraded in the report.

Even Federal Reserve chair nominee Janet Yellen's Thursday confirmation hearing centered on the big banks, as senators grilled the current Fed vice chairwoman on the steps being taken by the central bank toward tightening regulations on bank holding companies and averting another bailout.

Even though none of these news items featuring big banks placed the financial behemoths in a particularly positive light, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase are flying high shortly before noon. Perhaps the end of "too big to fail" is something investors look forward to as well.

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