New York financier Bernard Madoff Gets 150-Year Prison Term

June 30, 2009

Bernard Madoff - U.S. Department of Justice

The disgraced New York financier Bernard Lawrence “Bernie” Madoff has been sentenced to 150 years in prison by a court after pleading guilty to a massive Ponzi scheme, which severely impacted, among others, many philanthropies and individuals.

The sentence means that the 71-year-old, once a highly-respected Wall Street figure, will spend the rest of his life in jail.

He took billions of dollars from investors who trusted his reputation for providing spectacular returns and most of it has not been traced. The money was never invested but was put in banks and used to shore up the illusion that his business was trading successfully, as well as financing his luxury lifestyle.

Applause erupted in the courtroom when the sentence was announced, and despite a pubic apology by Madoff, Judge Denny Chin showed no leniency. “I don’t get a sense that Mr. Madoff has done all he could, or told all that he knows,” the judge said.

Read full story.


OECD revises World Economic Outlook forecast upward

June 24, 2009

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) today revised its World Economic Outlook forecast upward for the first time since 2007, indicating that the global economic slide may be approaching a bottom.

The group revised its estimates for 2009 upward, projecting a contraction of 4.1 percent rather than the 4.3 percent it projected before, and also projected slight growth in 2010, whereas before it had projected none.

Here is the text of the OECD report.

The new OECD report coincides with meetings of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee today in Washington.

A blog entry in the Wall Street Journal says the focus of the Fed’s meetings will be interest rates, how to word its statement on the economy, and the Fed’s asset purchase plan.

Read full story.


Mossad says Iran to have nuclear weapon by 2014

June 17, 2009

The head of the Mossad has said that Iran will be able to launch its first nuclear weapon by 2014.

Meir Dagan, the Israeli intelligence agency chief, told a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that “If the project has no technical glitches, and if Iran’s program does not malfunction in any way, they will have a bomb to launch by 2014. This is a significant existential threat for the State of Israel. We must distance this threat.”

Meir Dagan also said that the current unrest in Iran over the disputed results of last week’s presidential election was “an internal matter” and that it would soon die down. He said the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would make it easier for Israel to explain to the world the significance of the threat of Iran gaining nuclear capability. He also pointed out to the committee that it was actually the more moderate candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who had actually started Iran’s nuclear program when he was prime minister.


Iran’s New Revolution

June 10, 2009

Iran entered its final day of campaigning before its presidential elections tomorrow. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s challengers held rival protests in the city, criticizing the president for his crackdowns on personal freedoms and his troubles managing Iran’s struggling economy.

Several media have noted that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s challengers, mostly the reformists Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, once appeared pretty weak but seem to have gained momentum in recent weeks. It remains to be seen, of course, whether any of the challengers stands a chance of unseating the president. Some analysts have predicted that Mousavi and Karroubi will split the reformist vote, undermining one another.

The Economist says the results of the vote could hinge primarily on voter turnout, with higher turnout benefiting the reformists. The piece notes that recent televised debates seem to have energized Iranians “as much as any [election] since the Islamic revolution of 1979.”

The New York Times reports the state of the Iranian economy has emerged as a defining issue ahead of the vote.

EurasiaNet has an analysis arguing that Ahmadinejad may be trying to foment a “revolution within the Islamic Revolution” in hopes of establishing a “neoconservative dictatorship with the blessing of the country’s spiritual leader.” The problem, the article says, is that Ahmadinejad’s opponents are stronger than the Iranian president once thought.

Foreign Policy has a special report on the elections questioning whether a new revolution might be taking place.

Read full story.


Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act

June 9, 2009

U.S. Representatives Adam Schiff (Democrats – California) and Mike Pence (Republicans – Indiana), recently introduced legislation in the U.S. Congress to highlight and promote freedom of the press worldwide.

The legislation will establish an annual State Department report on the status of press freedom in every country in the world and create a grant program aimed at broadening and strengthening the independence of journalists and media organizations.

“I can think of no better way to honor the memory of Daniel Pearl,” Pence said. “This legislation takes valuable steps in highlighting and supporting the critical work of investigative journalism, while putting on notice those countries who choose to ignore the freedom of the press…”

Read full story.


Israel praises Barack Obama speech to Muslims

June 5, 2009

Haaretz reports U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration reached out to Israel following his speech yesterday addressing the Muslim world. Speaking in Germany today, Obama said the “moment is now” for pushing forward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The article adds that senior White House officials told Haaretz that “there is no crisis in our relationship with Israel, and we will succeed in reaching understandings on the matter of settlements,” which has been reported as a source of discord between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel’s government, for its part, praised Obama’s speech to Muslims but said that Israel’s security was its primary concern. 

Read full story.


U.S. Federal Reserve makes stiff warning on deficit

June 4, 2009

Speaking before the Committee on the Budget of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, yesterday, U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Shalom Bernanke said Washington will need to bring down long term budget deficits and said a failure to do so could lead to future debt problems.

Bernanke highlighted rising pressure on long-term interest rates as a problem.

***

Chairman Ben S. Bernanke
Chairman of the Board of Governors of the United States Federal Reserve
Current economic and financial conditions and the federal budget
Before the Committee on the Budget, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C.
June 3, 2009

Chairman Spratt, Ranking Member Ryan, and other members of the Committee, I am pleased to have this opportunity to offer my views on current economic and financial conditions and on issues pertaining to the federal budget.

Economic Developments and Outlook

The U.S. economy has contracted sharply since last fall, with real gross domestic product (GDP) having dropped at an average annual rate of about 6 percent during the fourth quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of this year. Among the enormous costs of the downturn is the loss of nearly 6 million jobs since the beginning of 2008. The most recent information on the labor market–the number of new and continuing claims for unemployment insurance through late May – suggests that sizable job losses and further increases in unemployment are likely over the next few months.

However, the recent data also suggest that the pace of economic contraction may be slowing. Notably, consumer spending, which dropped sharply in the second half of last year, has been roughly flat since the turn of the year, and consumer sentiment has improved. In coming months, households’ spending power will be boosted by the fiscal stimulus program. Nonetheless, a number of factors are likely to continue to weigh on consumer spending, among them the weak labor market, the declines in equity and housing wealth that households have experienced over the past two years, and still-tight credit conditions.

Activity in the housing market, after a long period of decline, has also shown some signs of bottoming. Sales of existing homes have been fairly stable since late last year, and sales of new homes seem to have flattened out in the past couple of monthly readings, though both remain at depressed levels. Meanwhile, construction of new homes has been sufficiently restrained to allow the backlog of unsold new homes to decline – a precondition for any recovery in homebuilding.

Businesses remain very cautious and continue to reduce their workforces and capital investments. On a more positive note, firms are making progress in shedding the unwanted inventories that they accumulated following last fall’s sharp downturn in sales. The Commerce Department estimates that the pace of inventory liquidation quickened in the first quarter, accounting for a sizable portion of the reported decline in real GDP in that period. As inventory stocks move into better alignment with sales, firms should become more willing to increase production.

We continue to expect overall economic activity to bottom out, and then to turn up later this year. Our assessments that consumer spending and housing demand will stabilize and that the pace of inventory liquidation will slow are key building blocks of that forecast. Final demand should also be supported by fiscal and monetary stimulus, and U.S. exports may benefit if recent signs of stabilization in foreign economic activity prove accurate. An important caveat is that our forecast also assumes continuing gradual repair of the financial system and an associated improvement in credit conditions; a relapse in the financial sector would be a significant drag on economic activity and could cause the incipient recovery to stall. I will provide a brief update on financial markets in a moment.

Even after a recovery gets under way, the rate of growth of real economic activity is likely to remain below its longer-run potential for a while, implying that the current slack in resource utilization will increase further. We expect that the recovery will only gradually gain momentum and that economic slack will diminish slowly. In particular, businesses are likely to be cautious about hiring, and the unemployment rate is likely to rise for a time, even after economic growth resumes.

In this environment, we anticipate that inflation will remain low. The slack in resource utilization remains sizable, and, notwithstanding recent increases in the prices of oil and other commodities, cost pressures generally remain subdued. As a consequence, inflation is likely to move down some over the next year relative to its pace in 2008. That said, improving economic conditions and stable inflation expectations should limit further declines in inflation.

Conditions in Financial Markets

Conditions in a number of financial markets have improved since earlier this year, likely reflecting both policy actions taken by the Federal Reserve and other agencies as well as the somewhat better economic outlook. Nevertheless, financial markets and financial institutions remain under stress, and low asset prices and tight credit conditions continue to restrain economic activity.

Among the markets where functioning has improved recently are those for short-term funding, including the interbank lending markets and the commercial paper market. Risk spreads in those markets appear to have moderated, and more lending is taking place at longer maturities. The better performance of short-term funding markets in part reflects the support afforded by Federal Reserve lending programs. It is encouraging that the private sector’s reliance on the Fed’s programs has declined as market stresses have eased, an outcome that was one of our key objectives when we designed our interventions. The issuance of asset-backed securities (ABS) backed by credit card, auto, and student loans has also picked up this spring, and ABS funding rates have declined, developments supported by the availability of the Federal Reserve’s Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility as a market backstop.

In markets for longer-term credit, bond issuance by nonfinancial firms has been relatively strong recently, and spreads between Treasury yields and rates paid by corporate borrowers have narrowed some, though they remain wide. Mortgage rates and spreads have also been reduced by the Federal Reserve’s program of purchasing agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities. However, in recent weeks, yields on longer-term Treasury securities and fixed-rate mortgages have risen. These increases appear to reflect concerns about large federal deficits but also other causes, including greater optimism about the economic outlook, a reversal of flight-to-quality flows, and technical factors related to the hedging of mortgage holdings.

As you know, last month, the federal bank regulatory agencies released the results of the Supervisory Capital Assessment Program (SCAP). The purpose of the exercise was to determine, for each of the 19 U.S.-owned bank holding companies with assets exceeding $100 billion, a capital buffer sufficient for them to remain strongly capitalized and able to lend to creditworthy borrowers even if economic conditions over the next two years turn out to be worse than we currently expect. According to the findings of the SCAP exercise, under the more adverse economic outlook, losses at the 19 bank holding companies would total an estimated $600 billion during 2009 and 2010. After taking account of potential resources to absorb those losses, including expected revenues, reserves, and existing capital cushions, we determined that 10 of the 19 institutions should raise, collectively, additional common equity of $75 billion.

Each of the 10 bank holding companies requiring an additional buffer has committed to raise this capital by November 9. We are in discussions with these firms on their capital plans, which are due by June 8. Even in advance of those plans being approved, the 10 firms have among them already raised more than $36 billion of new common equity, with a number of their offerings of common shares being over-subscribed. In addition, these firms have announced actions that would generate up to an additional $12 billon of common equity. We expect further announcements shortly as their capital plans are finalized and submitted to supervisors. The substantial progress these firms have made in meeting their required capital buffers, and their success in raising private capital, suggests that investors are gaining greater confidence in the banking system.

Fiscal Policy in the Current Economic and Financial Environment

Let me now turn to fiscal matters. As you are well aware, in February of this year, the Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA, a major fiscal package aimed at strengthening near-term economic activity. The package included personal tax cuts and increases in transfer payments intended to stimulate household spending, incentives for business investment, increases in federal purchases, and federal grants for state and local governments.

Predicting the effects of these fiscal actions on economic activity is difficult, especially in light of the unusual economic circumstances that we face. For example, households confronted with declining incomes and limited access to credit might be expected to spend most of their tax cuts; then again, heightened economic uncertainties and the desire to increase precautionary saving or pay down debt might reduce households’ propensity to spend. Likewise, it is difficult to judge how quickly funds dedicated to infrastructure needs and other longer-term projects will be spent and how large any follow-on effects will be. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has constructed a range of estimates of the effects of the stimulus package on real GDP and employment that appropriately reflects these uncertainties. According to the CBO’s estimates, by the end of 2010, the stimulus package could boost the level of real GDP between about 1 percent and a little more than 3 percent and the level of employment by between roughly 1 million and 3-1/2 million jobs.

The increases in spending and reductions in taxes associated with the fiscal package and the financial stabilization program, along with the losses in revenues and increases in income-support payments associated with the weak economy, will widen the federal budget deficit substantially this year. The Administration recently submitted a proposed budget that projects the federal deficit to reach about $1.8 trillion this fiscal year before declining to $1.3 trillion in 2010 and roughly $900 billion in 2011. As a consequence of this elevated level of borrowing, the ratio of federal debt held by the public to nominal GDP is likely to move up from about 40 percent before the onset of the financial crisis to about 70 percent in 2011. These developments would leave the debt-to-GDP ratio at its highest level since the early 1950s, the years following the massive debt buildup during World War II.

Certainly, our economy and financial markets face extraordinary near-term challenges, and strong and timely actions to respond to those challenges are necessary and appropriate. Nevertheless, even as we take steps to address the recession and threats to financial stability, maintaining the confidence of the financial markets requires that we, as a nation, begin planning now for the restoration of fiscal balance. Prompt attention to questions of fiscal sustainability is particularly critical because of the coming budgetary and economic challenges associated with the retirement of the baby-boom generation and continued increases in medical costs. The recent projections from the Social Security and Medicare trustees show that, in the absence of programmatic changes, Social Security and Medicare outlays will together increase from about 8-1/2 percent of GDP today to 10 percent by 2020 and 12-1/2 percent by 2030. With the ratio of debt to GDP already elevated, we will not be able to continue borrowing indefinitely to meet these demands.

Addressing the country’s fiscal problems will require a willingness to make difficult choices. In the end, the fundamental decision that the Congress, the Administration, and the American people must confront is how large a share of the nation’s economic resources to devote to federal government programs, including entitlement programs. Crucially, whatever size of government is chosen, tax rates must ultimately be set at a level sufficient to achieve an appropriate balance of spending and revenues in the long run. In particular, over the longer term, achieving fiscal sustainability–defined, for example, as a situation in which the ratios of government debt and interest payments to GDP are stable or declining, and tax rates are not so high as to impede economic growth – requires that spending and budget deficits be well controlled.

Clearly, the Congress and the Administration face formidable near-term challenges that must be addressed. But those near-term challenges must not be allowed to hinder timely consideration of the steps needed to address fiscal imbalances. Unless we demonstrate a strong commitment to fiscal sustainability in the longer term, we will have neither financial stability nor healthy economic growth.

Federal Reserve Transparency

Let me close today with an update on the Federal Reserve’s initiatives to enhance the transparency of our credit and liquidity programs. As I noted last month in my testimony before the Joint Economic Committee, I asked Vice Chairman Kohn to lead a review of our disclosure policies, with the goal of increasing the range of information that we make available to the public. That group has made significant progress, and we expect to begin publishing soon a monthly report on the Fed’s balance sheet and lending programs that will summarize and discuss recent developments and provide considerable new information concerning the number of borrowers at our various facilities, the concentration of borrowing, and the collateral pledged. In addition, the reports will provide quarterly updates of key elements of the Federal Reserve’s annual financial statements, including information regarding the System Open Market Account portfolio, our loan programs, and the special purpose vehicles that are consolidated on the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. We hope that this information will be helpful to the Congress and others with an interest in the Federal Reserve’s actions to address the financial crisis and the economic downturn. We will continue to look for opportunities to broaden the scope of the information and supporting analysis that we provide to the public.


Britain’s Political Crisis

June 3, 2009

The Financial Times reports Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown faces a full-fledged political crisis after Brown’s communities secretary became the latest in a string of high-level cabinet secretaries to resign.

The paper says the resignation leaves Brown’s Labour Party “looking seriously damaged” on the eve of European and local British elections.

Britain’s interior minister is also planning to resign, according to news reports. 

The Economist also questions whether Prime Minister Gordon Brown could ultimately lose his job if his party takes a drubbing in upcoming elections.

Read full story.


Terrorist Plot in New York against Synagogues

June 2, 2009

Four New York residents have been arrested for an alleged plot to attack two synagogues in the Bronx and to shoot down planes at a military base in Newburgh, New York.

The men, who were fuelled by their hatred of America and the Jews, reportedly began surveillance of several synagogues and a Jewish Community Center in the Bronx in April. The plot is one of several terrorist plots in the U.S. in recent years motivated by anti-Semitism and radical interpretations of Islam.

Several terrorist plots in New York were also motivated by a hatred of Jews or Israel.  These include:

  • A group of men plotted to attack New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in 2007, in part because they wanted to take revenge on the U.S. for its diplomatic relationship with Israel.
  • James Elshafay and Shawar Matin Siraj plotted to bomb New York’s Herald Square subway station in 2004 to show solidarity with the Palestinians because of their hatred of the “Zionists.”
  • In July 1997, Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer plotted to blow up a subway station in Brooklyn in order to “kill as many Jews as possible.”  He testified that he chose the Atlantic Avenue station as a target because there are “a lot of Jews who ride that train.”
  • Ali Abu Kamal, a Palestinian man who went on a shooting spree atop the Empire State Building in 1997, carried a note in his pocket indicating the attack was meant to vent his anger at the U.S. for using Israel as an “instrument” against the Palestinian people.
  • In 1993, five Islamic extremists detonated a car bomb below Tower One of the World Trade Center in New York City, killing 6 people and wounding more than 1,000 others. Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind behind the attack, first planned to bomb Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn, but settled on the World Trade Center because “the majority of people who work in the World Trade Center are Jews,” according to Abdul Rahman Yasin, a co-conspirator in the attack.
  • Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, an Egyptian cleric and alleged leader of the terrorist group Gama’a al-Islamiyya, plotted to bomb five major landmarks in New York in 1993, including the United Nations Headquarters, the Lincoln Tunnel, the Holland Tunnel, the George Washington Bridge and the FBI office in New York.  In addition, he plotted to attack New York’s diamond district, an area largely populated by Jews, which according to one of his co-defendants would be like “hitting Israel itself.”
  • In 1973, Khalid Al-Jawary plotted to blow up cars parked out of three Israeli targets in Manhattan to coincide with a scheduled visit to New York by then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir.  The targets included El Al air terminal at John F. Kennedy International airport, the First Israel Bank and Trust Company, and the Israel Discount Bank in New York City.

Read full story.


U.S. President Barack Obama discusses Israel, Middle East, ahead of trip

June 2, 2009

The BBC has an interview with U.S. President Barack Obama today ahead of his upcoming Middle East trip. Obama reaffirms U.S. support for a Palestinian state and says the formation of such a state is also in Israel’s interest.

He also says that he favours “tough, direct diplomacy” with Iran, and called for patience with respect to Israel’s apparent rejection of U.S. pressure to halt Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Obama also did an interview with National Public Radio (NPR) and said he believes the United States must be honest with Israel with respect to the settlement issue. He said, however, that he believes the United States can continue its strong support for Israel while at the same time improving relations with the Muslim world.

Read full story.


U.S. treasury secretary Geithner urges combined U.S.-China efforts to boost global economy

June 1, 2009
 

United States Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner

United States Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner

Timothy Geithner, in his first visit to China as U.S. Treasury Secretary, presented a plan for the United States and China to work together to rebuild the global economy and restore growth.

In a speech today at Peking University, Geithner stressed that there is much that both the United States and China need to do to rebalance the world economy. He called for China to make its currency more flexible in exchange for fiscal reforms in the United States. He also said China would need to diversify its economy beyond relying so heavily on exports for growth, and that the United States, in return, would focus on mitigating its ballooning deficit to protect massive Chinese investments in U.S. government debt.

Chinese media focused on Geithner’s implication that China should play a more significant role in global economic policymaking. China Daily says the primary goal of Geithner’s trip, which has included meetings with several leading Chinese economic policymakers, has been to reaffirm China’s faith in U.S. dollar-backed assets and still fears that U.S. budget deficit and loose monetary policy will prompt inflation, undermining Chinese holdings of both the U.S. dollar and U.S. Treasury bonds.

Below is the text of Timothy Geithner’s speech.

***

The United States and China, Cooperating for Recovery and Growth

 Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner

Speech at Peking University – Beijing, China
June 1st, 2009

 It is a pleasure to be back in China and to join you here today at this great university. 

I first came to China, and to Peking University, in the summer of 1981 as a college student studying Mandarin. I was here with a small group of graduate and undergraduate students from across the United States. I returned the next summer to Beijing Normal University. 

We studied reasonably hard, and had the privilege of working with many talented professors, some of whom are here today. As we explored this city and traveled through Eastern China, we had the chance not just to understand more about your history and your aspirations, but also to begin to see the United States through your eyes. 

Over the decades since, we have seen the beginnings of one of the most extraordinary economic transformations in history. China is thriving.  Economic reform has brought exceptionally rapid and sustained growth in incomes. China’s emergence as a major economic force more fully integrated into the world economy has brought substantial benefits to the United States and to economies around the world.  

In recognition of our mutual interest in a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship, President Hu Jintao and President Obama agreed in April to establish the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. Secretary Clinton and I will host Vice Premier Wang and State Councilor Dai in Washington this summer for our first meeting.  I have the privilege of beginning the economic discussions with a series of meetings in Beijing today and tomorrow. 

These meetings will give us a chance to discuss the risks and challenges on the economic front, to examine some of the longer term challenges we both face in laying the foundation for a more balanced and sustainable recovery, and to explore our common interest in international financial reform.

Current Challenges and Risks

 The world economy is going through the most challenging economic and financial stress in generations. 

 The International Monetary Fund predicts that the world economy will shrink this year for the first time in more than six decades. The collapse of world trade is likely to be the worst since the end of World War II. The lost output, compared to the world economy’s potential growth in a normal year, could be between three and four trillion dollars.

In the face of this challenge, China and the United States are working together to help shape a strong global strategy to contain the crisis and to lay the foundation for recovery. And these efforts, the combined effect of forceful policy actions here in China, in the United States, and in other major economies, have helped slow the pace of deterioration in growth, repair the financial system, and improve confidence. 

In fact, what distinguishes the current crisis is not just its global scale and its acute severity, but the size and speed of the global response.

At the G-20 Leaders meeting in London in April, we agreed on an unprecedented program of coordinated policy actions to support growth, to stabilize and repair the financial system, to restore the flow of credit essential for trade and investment, to mobilize financial resources for emerging market economies through the international financial institutions, and to keep markets open for trade and investment. 

That historic accord on a strategy for recovery was made possible in part by the policy actions already begun in China and the United States. 

China moved quickly as the crisis intensified with a very forceful program of investments and financial measures to strengthen domestic demand.

In the United States, in the first weeks of the new Administration, we put in place a comprehensive program of tax incentives and investments ¨C the largest peace time recovery effort since World War II – to help arrest the sharp fall in private demand. Alongside these fiscal measures, we acted to ease the housing crisis. And we have put in place a series of initiatives to bring more capital into the banking system and to restart the credit markets.  

These actions have been reinforced by similar actions in countries around the world. 

In contrast to the global crisis of the 1930s and to the major economic crises of the postwar period, the leaders of the world acted together. They acted quickly. They  took steps to provide assistance to the most vulnerable economies, even as they faced exceptional financial needs at home. They worked to keep their markets open, rather than retreating into self-defeating measures of discrimination and protection. 

And they have committed to make sure this program of initiatives is sustained until the foundation for recovery is firmly established, a commitment the IMF will monitor closely, and that we will be able to evaluate together when the G-20 Leaders meet again in the United States this fall. 

We are starting to see some initial signs of improvement. The global recession seems to be losing force. In the United States, the pace of decline in economic activity has slowed. Households are saving more, but consumer confidence has improved, and spending is starting to recover. House prices are falling at a slower pace and the inventory of unsold homes has come down significantly. Orders for goods and services are somewhat stronger. The pace of deterioration in the labor market has slowed, and new claims for unemployment insurance have started to come down a bit. 

The financial system is starting to heal. The clarity and disclosure provided by our capital assessment of major U.S. banks has helped improve market confidence in them, making it possible for banks that needed capital to raise it from private investors and to borrow without guarantees. The securities markets, including the asset backed securities markets that essentially stopped functioning late last year, have started to come back. The cost of credit has fallen substantially for businesses and for families as spreads and risk premia have narrowed.    

These are important signs of stability, and assurance that we will succeed in averting financial collapse and global deflation, but they represent only the first steps in laying the foundation for recovery. The process of repair and adjustment is going to take time. 

China, despite your own manifest challenges as a developing country, you are in an enviably strong position. But in most economies, the recession is still powerful and dangerous. Business and households in the United States, as in many countries, are still experiencing the most challenging economic and financial pressures in decades. 

The plant closures, and company restructurings that the recession is causing are painful, and this process is not yet over. The fallout from these events has been brutally indiscriminant, affecting those with little or no responsibility for the events that now buffet them, as well as on some who played key roles in bringing about our troubles.

The extent of the damage to financial systems entails significant risk that the supply of credit will be constrained for some time. The constraints on banks in many major economies will make it hard for them to compensate fully for the damage done to the basic machinery of the securitization markets, including the loss of confidence in credit ratings. After a long period where financial institutions took on too much risk, we still face the possibility that  banks and investors may take too little risk, even as the underlying economic conditions start to improve. 

And, after a long period of falling saving and substantial growth in household borrowing relative to GDP, consumer spending in the United States will be restrained for some time relative to what is typically the case in recoveries. 

 These are necessary adjustments. They will entail a longer, slower process of recovery, with a very different pattern of future growth across countries than we have seen in the past several recoveries. 

Laying the Foundation for Future Growth

 As we address this immediate financial and economic crisis, it is important that we also lay the foundations for more balanced, sustained growth of the global economy once this recovery is firmly established. 

A successful transition to a more balanced and stable global economy will require very substantial changes to economic policy and financial regulation around the world. But some of the most important of those changes will have to come in the United States and China. How successful we are in Washington and Beijing will be critically important to the economic fortunes of the rest of the world. The effectiveness of U.S. policies will depend in part on China’s, and the effectiveness of yours on ours. 

Although the United States and China start from very different positions, many of our domestic challenges are similar. In the United States, we are working to reform our health care system, to improve the quality of education, to rebuild our infrastructure, and to improve energy efficiency. These reforms are essential to boosting the productive capacity of our economy. These challenges are at the center of your reform priorities, too. 

We are both working to reform our financial systems. In the United States, our challenge is to create a more stable and more resilient financial system, with stronger protections for consumer and investors.  As we work to strengthen and redesign regulation to achieve these objectives, our challenge is to preserve the core strengths of our financial system, which are its exceptional capacity to adapt and innovate and to channel capital for investment in new technologies and innovative companies. You have the benefit of being able to learn from our shortcomings, which have proved so damaging in the present crisis, as well as from our strengths.  

Our common challenge is to recognize that a more balanced and sustainable global recovery will require changes in the composition of growth in our two economies. Because of this, our policies have to be directed at very different outcomes. 

In the United States, saving rates will have to increase, and the purchases of U.S. consumers cannot be as dominant a driver of growth as they have been in the past. 

In China, as your leadership has recognized, growth that is sustainable growth will require a very substantial shift from external to domestic demand, from an investment and export intensive driven growth, to growth led by consumption. Strengthening domestic demand will also strengthen China’s ability to weather fluctuations in global supply and demand.

If we are successful on these respective paths, public and private saving in the United States will increase as recovery strengthens, and as this happens, our current account deficit will come down. And in China, domestic demand will rise at a faster rate than overall GDP, led by a gradual shift to higher rates of consumption.  

Globally, recovery will have come more from a shift by high saving economies to stronger domestic demand and less from the American consumer. 

The policy framework for a successful transition to this outcome is starting to take shape.

In the United States, we are putting in place the foundations for restoring fiscal sustainability. 

The President in his initial budget to Congress made it clear that, as soon as recovery is firmly established, we are going to have to bring our fiscal deficit down to a level that is sustainable over the medium term. This will mean bringing the imbalance between our fiscal resources and expenditures down to the point - roughly three percent of GDP – where the overall level of public debt to GDP is definitively on a downward path.  The temporary investments and tax incentives we put in place in the Recovery Act to strengthen private demand will have to expire, discretionary spending will have to fall back to a more modest level relative to GDP, and we will have to be very disciplined in limiting future commitments through the reintroduction of budget disciplines, such as pay-as-you go rules.

The President also looks forward to working with Congress to further reduce our long-run fiscal deficit.

And, critical to our long-term fiscal health, we have to put in place comprehensive health care reform that will bring down the growth in health care costs, costs that are the principal driver of our long run fiscal deficit. 

The President has also proposed steps to encourage private saving, including through automatic enrollment in retirement savings accounts. 

Alongside these fiscal actions, we have designed our policies to address the financial crisis to carefully minimize risk to the taxpayer and to allow for an orderly exit or unwinding as soon as conditions permit. Across the various financial facilities put in place by the Treasury, the Federal Reserve, and the FDIC, we have been careful to set the economic terms at a level so that demand for these facilities will fade as conditions normalize and risk premia recede.  Banks have a strong incentive to replace public capital with private capital as soon as conditions permit. 

Let me be clear - the United States is committed to a strong and stable international financial system. The Obama Administration fully recognizes that the United States has a special responsibility to play in this regard, and we fully appreciate that exercising this special responsibility begins at home. As we recover from this unprecedented crisis, we will cut our fiscal deficit, we will eliminate the extraordinary governmental support that we have put in place to overcome the crisis, we will continue to preserve the openness of our economy, and we will resolutely maintain the policy framework necessary for durable and lasting sustained non-inflationary growth.

In China, the challenge is fundamentally different, and at least as complex. 

Critical to the success of your efforts to shift future growth to domestic demand are measures to raise household incomes and to reduce the need that households feel to save large amounts for precautionary reasons or to pay for major expenditures like education.  This involves strengthening the social safety net with health care reform and more complete public retirement systems, enacting financial reforms to help expand access to credit for households, and providing products that allow households to insure against risk.  These efforts can be funded through the increased collection of dividends from state-owned enterprises.

The structure of the Chinese economy will shift as domestic demand grows in importance, with a larger service sector, more emphasis on light industry, and less emphasis on heavy, capital intensive export and import-competing industries.  The resulting growth will generate greater employment, and be less energy-intensive than the current structure of Chinese industry. Allowing the market, interest rates, and other prices to function to encourage the shift in production will be particularly important.

An important part of this strategy is the government’s commitment to continue progress toward a more flexible exchange rate regime.  Greater exchange rate flexibility will help reinforce the shift in the composition of growth, encourage resource shifts to support domestic demand, and provide greater ability for monetary policy to achieve sustained growth with low inflation in the future. 

International Financial Reform

 These are some of the most important domestic economic challenge we face, and these issues will be at the core of our agenda for economic cooperation. 

But I think it is important to underscore that we also have a very strong interest in working together to strengthen the framework for international economic and financial cooperation.  

Let me highlight three important areas.

At the G-20 Leaders meeting, we committed to a series of actions to help reform and strengthen the international financial architecture.

As part of this, we agreed to put in place a stronger framework of standards for supervision and regulation of the financial system.  We expanded and strengthened the Financial Stability Forum, now renamed the Financial Stability Board.  China and other major emerging economies are now full participants, alongside the major financial centers, in this critical institution for cooperation.  We will have the chance together to help redesign global standards for capital requirements, stronger oversight of global markets like derivatives, better tools for resolving future financial crises, and measures to reduce the opportunities for regulatory arbitrage. 

We also committed to an ambitious program of reform of the IMF and other international financial institutions.  Our common objective is to reform the governance of these institutions to make them more representative of the shifting balance of economic and financial activity in the world, to strengthen their capacity to prevent future crisis, with stronger surveillance of macroeconomic, exchange rate, and financial policies, and to equip them with a stronger financial capacity to respond to future crises. We also committed to mobilize $500 billion in additional finance through the enlargement and membership expansion of the IMF’s New Arrangements to Borrow in order to provide an insurance policy for the global financial system.

As part of this process of reform, the United States will fully support having China play a role in the principal cooperative arrangements that help shape the international system, a role that is commensurate with China’s importance in the global economy.

I believe that a greater role for China is necessary for China, for the effectiveness of the international financial institutions themselves, and for the world economy. 

China is already too important to the global economy not to have a full seat at the international table, helping to define the policies that are critical to the effective functioning of the international financial system.

Second, we must cooperate to assure that the global trade and investment environment remains open, and that opportunities continue to expand.  As economies have become more open and more closely integrated, global economic growth has been stronger and more broad-based, bringing increasing numbers out of poverty, and turning developing nations into major emerging markets.    The global commitment to trade liberalization and increasingly open investment played a critical role in this process ¨C in the industrialized world, in East Asia, and, since 1978, in China.  As we go through the severe stresses of this crisis, we must not turn our backs on open trade and investment - for ourselves and for those who have yet to experience the fruits of growth and development. The United States, China, and the other members of the G20 have committed to not resort to protectionist measures by raising trade and investment barriers and to work toward a successful conclusion to the Doha Development Round. 

And third, one of the most critical long-term challenges that we both face is climate change.  Individually and collectively, there is an urgent need to ensure that each and every country takes meaningful action to deal with this threat.  Reducing land and forest degradation, conserving energy, and using clean technology are important objectives that complement both our efforts to achieve a new, sustainable pattern of growth and our goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. China and the United States already are working closely through the Strategic and Economic Dialogue in areas such as clean transportation, clean and efficient production of electricity, and the reduction of air and water pollution.  We must continue these efforts for the sake of our natio ns and the planet.

Conclusion

In the last few years the frequency, intensity, and importance of U.S.-China economic engagements have multiplied.  The U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue that President Obama and President Hu initiated in April is the next stage in that process.  I look forward to welcoming Vice Premier Wang, State Councilor Dai and their colleagues to Washington to participate in the first meeting of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

 Our engagement should be conducted with mutual respect for the traditions, values, and interests of China and the United States. We will make a joint effort in a concerted way “同心协力”.  We should understand that we each have a very strong stake in the health and the success of each other’s economy. 

China and the United States individually, and together, are so important in the global economy and financial system that what we do has a direct impact on the stability and strength of the international economic system.  Other nations have a legitimate interest in our policies and the ways in which we work together, and we each have an obligation to ensure that our policies and actions promote the health and stability of the global economy and financial system.

We come together because we have shared interests and responsibilities.  We also have our own national interests.   I will be a strong advocate for U.S. interests, just as I expect my counterparts to represent China.  China has benefited hugely from open trade and investment, and the ability to greatly increase its exports to the rest of the world.  In turn, we expect increased opportunities to export to and invest in the Chinese economy.   

We want China to succeed and prosper.  Chinese growth and expanding Chinese demand is a tremendous opportunity for U.S. firms and workers, just as it is in China and the rest of the world. 

Global problems will not be solved without U.S.-China cooperation.  That goes for the entire range of issues that face our world from economic recovery and financial repair to climate change and energy policy.

I look forward to working with you cooperatively, and in a spirit of mutual respect.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46 other followers