Opinion

James Saft

One-note Geithner’s leverage song

Sep 21, 2011 21:12 UTC

James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Tim Geithner went a very long way on Friday to accomplish very little, flying to Poland to pitch to the assembled euro zone finance ministers the same tactics that have worked so poorly in the U.S.

Faced with another debt problem, Geithner once again proposed more debt as the solution, suggesting that Europe should leverage its EFSF bailout fund so it can have enough firepower to buy up the debts of weak euro zone nations. This mislabels a debt problem as a price problem, and is an almost exact analogue to the U.S.’s own tactics in addressing its own financial system problem — creating leveraged funds to buy up toxic debt and thereby massage the balance sheets of banks.

This is the deflationary equivalent of reacting to runaway inflation by deciding to lop a zero off the end of prices; things will appear better but the underlying issue is not resolved. This is borne out in the U.S., where private fortunes continue to be made in banking, but where the system is unable to play its role in capital intermediation. Many lenders are still wary, rightly, of funding U.S. banks and are unconvinced that the toxic debt problem is gone for good.

The Europeans don’t appear to be buyers either. “We are not discussing the expansion or increase of the EFSF with a nonmember of the euro area,” said Jean-Claude Juncker, the chairman of the Eurogroup.

He also ruled out any further fiscal stimulus, something Washington has also called for. “Fiscal consolidation remains a top priority for the euro area,” he said.

A financial widening, not deepening

Mar 3, 2011 13:23 UTC

While Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner prepares for a “financial deepening” he hopes will be a boon to U.S. banks, we may be steering instead for broader, shallower waters which will drive down margins in financial services and favor simplicity.

Geithner told The New Republic that he sees a coming boom for demand for financial services from emerging markets as a newly affluent middle class seeks new and more sophisticated financial products.

“I don’t have any enthusiasm for … trying to shrink the relative importance of the financial system in our economy as a test of reform, because we have to think about the fact that we operate in the broader world,” Geithner said.

Currencies: war, tragedy or farce?

Feb 8, 2011 12:46 UTC

Call it what you like — war, tragedy or farce — but the disagreement over global currency exchange rates shows no sign of coming to a peaceful negotiated agreement.

Asked last week if loose Federal Reserve monetary policy was to blame for inflation in emerging markets, Ben Bernanke stoutly denied that it was anything to do with him, maintaining in central banker-speak that he’d been tucked up in bed at home at the time.

“I think it’s entirely unfair to attribute excess demand pressures in emerging markets to U.S. monetary policy, because emerging markets have all the tools they need to address excess demand in those countries,” the Fed chief told reporters assembled at the National Press Club in Washington.

from The Great Debate:

Geithner’s hair of the dog plan for banks

J Saft
Feb 18, 2009 10:03 UTC

jimsaftcolumn-- James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. --

U.S. plans for a public-private fund to buy up toxic assets are likely to amount to a fig leaf with which to hide subsidies to failing banks.

It is also, inevitably, an entirely new subsidy to outside investors, who by definition will only participate if they get better terms than now available in what we formerly thought of as the free market.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner last week announced the plan, which will provide between $500 billion and $1 trillion of financing to private sector funds which will use the money to lever up their own capital and make offers for complex and doubtful securities now clogging balance sheets. Further details are to follow.

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