G7 to push private sector to help settle markets

Interview

Finance chiefs from rich nations meet on Friday to bless proposals for tightening scrutiny of global banking practices and to press the private sector to step up its efforts to settle financial markets.

Group of Seven finance ministers and central bankers will review a hefty set of recommendations from a blue-ribbon study group, the Financial Stability Forum, for calming a markets crisis that has rippled across the globe since last summer and may eventually cost as much as $1 trillion in losses.

Indications before Friday's meeting were that most G7 members already accept the proposals, including measures to improve risk management so banks aren't caught short of cash as occurred this year when credit markets seized up.

“I expect the recommendations of the FSF, perhaps amended somewhat, will be adopted by the ministers and central bankers,” Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said on Wednesday as he briefed reporters ahead of the G7 meeting.

The next step will be to push bankers to match the vigor of the efforts that global central banks have shown in battling the liquidity squeeze by urging these private-sector players to quickly put their losses behind them and resume lending.

A select group of bankers has been invited to a dinner on Friday night at the US Treasury Department, following the formal G7 meeting and after a G7 communiqué has been issued.

The G7 comprises the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan. US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson clearly stated his position on Thursday that he wants banks to be ready to play their role as a market stabilizer.

“If you think you're going to need capital, don't be looking for the government to help you,” Paulson said after addressing the Council of Institutional Investors. “If you think you need capital, go raise it.”

On the eve of Friday's gathering, Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa said the G7 countries “need to show a clear determination towards stabilizing the financial system.”

The eight-month-old crisis, which originated in a meltdown of US subprime mortgage markets, ricocheted through the global economy as securities cobbled together on Wall Street from bits and pieces of mortgage loans turned sour.

It has now has cast a pall over global economic prospects. The International Monetary Fund said this week it expected the United States to topple into a “mild recession” this year and estimated a 25% chance the global economy will grow by 3% or less, which would be considered recessionary.

The outlines of the FSF's proposals, which US officials said will number about 65 recommendations, are known: fuller disclosure of risks by banks, more rigid standards for credit rating agencies, measures by central banks to ensure they can effectively pump cash into the system at times of stress.

“We look forward to discussing rapid and effective implementation of the FSF findings with our colleagues,” US Treasury Under Secretary David McCormick said on Wednesday.

While the focus is clearly on financial-system reform, G7 ministers want to send a message that the global economy is not about to run off the rails and might tweak communiqué language on currencies in response to European concerns that the euro has reached new heights against the dollar.

“I deplore the excessive volatility of exchange rates,” European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet said on Thursday after the euro hit a record peak of $1.5912.

Past communiqués also have encouraged China to speed up appreciation of its yuan currency, and the pace of the currency's rise has picked up. It crossed 7.00 to the US dollar on Thursday for the first time in more than a decade.

The G7 could give a nod to the increased pace of appreciation, which is considered vital to help reduce global economic imbalances, but likely will also urge Beijing to keep the process going.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke emphasized in a speech on Thursday that there was an urgency about putting reforms in place to restore confidence. The US central bank has pumped about $400 billion of liquidity into markets and other global central banks also have poured in cash to boost banks' willingness to lend.

“We do not have the luxury of waiting for markets to stabilize before we think about the future,” Bernanke said. (Reuters)

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