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Apr 16, 2009

GATA Dispatches: "William Pesek; China isn't the only currency manipulator"

Submitted by cpowell on 06:51PM ET Thursday, April 16, 2009. Section: Daily Dispatches Geithner's Biggest Problem is Dollar, Not ChinaBy William PesekBloomberg NewsFriday, April 17, 2009http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601039&refer=columnist_pesek&si...It's a bit rich for U.S. politicians to berate Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for not labeling China as a currency manipulator. Perhaps Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, hasn't seen a newspaper in the last 12 months. With near-zero interest rates, the likely issuance of trillions of dollars of government debt and massive taxpayer-funded bailouts, the U.S. will soon make China look like a manipulation piker. Memo to Graham and his ilk: Your economy has lost any moral high ground as it drags the world down with it. That will be even truer as the dollar eventually pays the price for ultra-loose monetary and fiscal policies. And it will. Sure, China manipulates the yuan. Everyone knows that, including Geithner; he said so during his January confirmation hearing. It's also widely recognized that a stable yuan is propping up the U.S. financial system. Its $2 trillion of reserves are a direct result of China manipulating the yuan. Geithner's climb-down from the manipulator charge is about pragmatism. He is aware of the fragility of international support for the dollar. "I do not look for an immediate collapse," says Hans Goetti, chief investment officer at LGT Bank in Liechtenstein (Singapore) Ltd. "I am bearish longer term as the Fed will continue with their demolition job on their balance sheet." The key distinction may be motive. China micromanages its currency on purpose to help exporters. The U.S.'s manipulation may be inadvertent. The end result will be the same. ... China's Obsession At the moment, China's obsession with a competitive exchange rate is more of a plus for the U.S. than a minus. It's not as if Detroit automakers will sell more cars to Chinese consumers if the yuan strengthens. A stronger yuan in this global climate would be a setback to the third-largest economy. It is easy to forget in this Group-of-Seven world that China's economy is now bigger than Germany's and the U.K.'s. Even if many regard low-income China as the world’s factory floor, its importance as a national economy has ballooned. China is far from a perfect locomotive, but it is among the very few we have today. The U.S., the traditional engine, is stuck in reverse. So, it is hard to keep a straight face when politicians such as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, say China must "continue reforms." ... Wrong Messenger Right message, wrong messenger. The International Monetary Fund can call on China to modernize its financial system, free its currency, or trade more fairly. The U.S., with its dollar-printing campaign, "buy American" provisions in stimulus bills, and deepening recession, can't make such requests. Nor can the U.S. offer many lessons on transparency these days. Those protesting around the U.S. on April 15, tax day, were livid about politicians spending their future. No issue has enraged taxpayers more than American International Group Inc. getting $183 billion of public money and then passing chunks of it to Wall Street's elite, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. One reason that China's reserves madden U.S. politicians is the perception that the Asian nation is somehow rich. Yes, China's massive reserves are a nice thing to have as global markets tank. Yet all those dollars on China's national balance sheet are more of a weakness than a strength. Nobel laureate Paul Krugman calls it "China's dollar trap." The point is that China's recent call for an alternative to the dollar was as much a cry for help as an economic-policy suggestion. China would lose big-time if the dollar collapsed. ... Dollar's Woes The argument by China, Russia, and Arab states to move away from the dollar deserves attention. First things first, though. The focus must be on stabilizing a global system that, for better or worse, is anchored by the dollar. Once things simmer, a new framework can be hammered out. The battle may soon be more about saving the dollar than scrapping it. The Federal Reserve's move to cut interest rates to near zero and pump tidal waves of liquidity into markets hasn't sent the dollar into freefall yet. More Fed liquidity and government borrowing are likely. Once the U.S. begins to recover, the historic steps that such an outcome required can't be good for the dollar. Not that the U.S. would mind a weaker dollar, so long as the move is orderly. You didn't see many signs of panic in 2008 when the dollar was falling. Most economies in recession would welcome a more competitive exchange rate. The risk, though, is that the dollar's drop will be a sharp one and spook markets. Bulls argue that if you don't like the dollar, what else are you going to buy? It's a fair question. The yen? The Swiss franc? The euro? All of these options have their own problems. Yet it's worth noting that the U.S., with its fast-growing debt burden, couldn't join the euro area even if it wanted to. The U.S. is actively paving the way for a falling currency. Just because China does it on purpose doesn't mean the U.S. won't be more successful at it in the long run. -----William Pesek is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
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GATA Dispatches: "Obama's Wall Street ties doom bank rescue, Stiglitz says"

Submitted by cpowell on 08:41PM ET Thursday, April 16, 2009. Section: Daily Dispatches By Michael McKee and Matthew BenjaminBloomberg NewsThursday, April 16, 2009http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=ahnPchOxZMh8&refer=h...NEW YORK -- The Obama administration's plan to fix the U.S. banking system is destined to fail because the programs have been designed to help Wall Street rather than create a viable financial system, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said. "All the ingredients they have so far are weak, and there are several missing ingredients," Stiglitz said in an interview. The people who designed the plans are "either in the pocket of the banks or they're incompetent." The Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, isn't large enough to recapitalize the banking system, and the administration hasn't been direct in addressing that shortfall, he said. Stiglitz said there are conflicts of interest at the White House because some of President Obama's advisers have close ties to Wall Street. "We don't have enough money, they don't want to go back to Congress, and they don't want to do it in an open way and they don't want to get control" of the banks, a set of constraints that will guarantee failure, Stiglitz said. The return to taxpayers from the TARP is as low as 25 cents on the dollar, he said. "The bank restructuring has been an absolute mess." Rather than continually buying small stakes in banks, weaker banks should be put through a receivership where the shareholders of the banks are wiped out and the bondholders become the shareholders, using taxpayer money to keep the institutions functioning, he said. Stiglitz, 66, won the Nobel in 2001 for showing that markets are inefficient when all parties in a transaction don't have equal access to critical information, which is most of the time. His work is cited in more economic papers than that of any of his peers, according to a February ranking by Research Papers in Economics, an international database. The Public-Private Investment Program, PPIP, designed to buy bad assets from banks, "is a really bad program," Stiglitz said. It won't accomplish the administration’s goal of establishing a price for illiquid assets clogging banks' balance sheets, and instead will enrich investors while sticking taxpayers with huge losses. "You're really bailing out the shareholders and the bondholders," he said. "Some of the people likely to be involved in this, like Pimco, are big bondholders," he said, referring to Pacific Investment Management Co., a bond investment firm in Newport Beach, California. Stiglitz said taxpayer losses are likely to be much larger than bank profits from the PPIP program even though Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair has said the agency expects no losses. "The statement from Sheila Bair that there's no risk is absurd," he said, because losses from the PPIP will be borne by the FDIC, which is funded by member banks. "We're going to be asking all the banks, including presumably some healthy banks, to pay for the losses of the bad banks," Stiglitz said. "It's a real redistribution and a tax on all American savers." Stiglitz was also concerned about the links between White House advisers and Wall Street. Hedge fund D.E. Shaw & Co. paid National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers, a managing director of the firm, more than $5 million in salary and other compensation in the 16 months before he joined the administration. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank. "America has had a revolving door. People go from Wall Street to Treasury and back to Wall Street," he said. "Even if there is no quid pro quo, that is not the issue. The issue is the mindset." Stiglitz was head of the White House's Council of Economic Advisers under President Bill Clinton before serving from 1997 to 2000 as chief economist at the World Bank. He resigned from that post in 2000 after repeatedly clashing with the White House over economic policies it supported at the International Monetary Fund. He is now a professor at Columbia University. Stiglitz was also critical of Obama's other economic rescue programs. He called the $787 billion stimulus program necessary but "flawed" because too much spending comes after 2009, and because it devotes too much of the money to tax cuts "which aren't likely to work very effectively." "It's really a peculiar policy, I think," he said. The $75 billion mortgage relief program, meanwhile, doesn't do enough to help Americans who can't afford to make their monthly payments, he said. It doesn't reduce principal, doesn't make changes in bankruptcy law that would help people work out debts, and doesn't change the incentive to simply stop making payments once a mortgage is greater than the value of a house. Stiglitz said the Fed, while it has done almost all it can to bring the country back from the worst recession since 1982, can't revive the economy on its own. Relying on low interest rates to help put a floor under housing prices is a variation on the policies that created the housing bubble in the first place, Stiglitz said. "This is a strategy trying to recreate that bubble," he said. "That's not likely to provide a long-run solution. It's a solution that says, 'Let's kick the can down the road a little bit." While the strategy might put a floor under housing prices, it won't do anything to speed the recovery, he said. "It's a recipe for Japanese-style malaise."
* * *Help keep GATA goingGATA is a civil rights and educational organization based in the United States and tax-exempt under the U.S. Internal Revenue Code.
Its e-mail dispatches are free, and you can subscribe at:http://www.gata.orgTo contribute to GATA, please visit:
http://www.gata.org/node/16
Contact GATAinfo@gata.org
Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee
7 Villa Louisa RoadManchester, Connecticut06043-7541 USA
www.gata.org