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Wall Street to Obama: Hands off!

obama_v_wallst.gi.top.jpgPresident Obama, speaking in lower Manhattan, made his case for Wall Street reform. By Aaron Smith, CNNMoney.com staff writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Misguided. Unworkable. Hypocritical.

Wall Street was unimpressed by President Obama's argument for financial reform on Thursday. The reaction of nearly a dozen financial industry workers ranged from skepticism to animosity.

"It doesn't seem necessary for him to come down here," said Frank Clemente, a stock broker. "It's all political, not any real reform."

Clemente was particularly annoyed that Obama criticized the financial industry after having accepted political contributions from Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500) employees during his presidential campaign.

"He took their money before, so it's kind of hypocritical to attack them now," he said.

Obama spoke at Cooper Union in lower Manhattan, a short distance from the New York Stock Exchange. In his midday speech, the president said the economic downturn that has cost the nation 8 million jobs is a clear sign for the need to reform the finance industry.

Brett Smiley, a client manager at a company called 7city Learning that trains workers in the financial industry, was one of the few Wall Streeters who told CNNMoney.com he was glad Obama was "giving some sort of active interest towards coming up with a solution" to the financial crisis.

But he agreed with his peers that the president should keep his hands off executive bonuses. "The big corporations should be able to rule their companies as they see fit," he said.

Taz Basran, a lawyer in the financial district, said he was getting tired of Obama and other politicians "using Wall Street as a scapegoat."

"I think he needs to focus on more important issues of the U.S. economy, which is to bring employment back, to bring greater stability," he said. "Looking at executive pay on Wall Street is not going to solve his problems."

In his speech, the president called for tighter regulations, stressing that the notion of a free market had been taken too far.

"I believe in the power of the free market, but a free market was never meant to be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it," said Obama.

But on Wall Street, it was hard to find anyone who agreed with Obama's calling for tighter regulations.

"My big concern is the over-regulation of an already regulated industry," said Bill McCoach, who works for Quaker Funds, a mutual fund company. "Even in an industry that could use a little more scrutiny, it still can be overdone."

Finance workers who spoke to CNNMoney.com agreed that transparency is necessary to avoid another market meltdown, but they didn't see much more that the president could do to improve the current finance industry safeguards.

"On paper, it's a great idea," said McCoach. "Who isn't for more transparency so we can avoid what occurred? But can it be done and how will it be done?" To top of page

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