- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 30, 2010

UPDATED:

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — Regulators from the world’s major developed countries told bankers far and wide in Davos on Saturday that greater regulation is on the way, a defensive move aimed at avoiding a repeat of last year’s financial meltdown that dragged most of the world into recession.

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank said a bank tax and other tough new measures would be introduced by the individual countries but in a coordinated way to prevent bankers from moving from one place to another to escape regulation.

“Lenin might have been able to put socialism in one country, but tough bank regulation in one country ain’t going to happen because we will lose people,” said Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who heads the U.S. House Financial Services Committee, a key spot for any American decisions.

The measures have been criticized by banks and hedge funds, fearful that more and more regulation could have the unintended effect of halting what most agree is a nascent economic recovery around the globe.

Government regulators, finance ministers and central bankers from the U.S. and Europe laid out their financial reform plans during a two-hour meeting Saturday with bank executives at the World Economic Forum.

It came after days of tension at the Swiss Alpine resort over government plans for stricter controls on the financial industry to limit speculation and avoid a repeat of 2008.

The event was not on the forum’s official agenda, but quickly became the most significant development of the day. It also brought to mind some of Davos’ high-profile conflict-resolution efforts of past years, including a Greek-Turkey accord to avoid war in 1988, as well as meetings between South African President F. W. de Klerk and the recently freed Nelson Mandela, and between Israel’s then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Frank, who emerged from the closed-door meeting as its unofficial spokesman, rejected the notion that the Obama administration could sink the economy again with too many new controls on the banking industry.

“That’s nonsense,” Frank told reporters. “What we’re trying globally to recover from is a total lack of regulation.”

For the most part, some bankers conceded that the regulations — existing and proposed — remain a key component of putting the financial crisis in the past and, to an extent, keeping it from happening again.

“Well they’re absolutely part of the solution, and I must say that the dialogue between political leaders, regulators and bankers have become very, very constructive indeed,” said Josef Ackermann, chief executive of Deutsche Bank AG. “I think we all know something has to happen quickly to restore confidence in the system.”

Few details of what was discussed were made public, but Frank said there would be a bank tax imposed by individual countries, but in a coordinated manner.

“The financial industry understands tough regulation is coming and it can be done thoughtfully,” he said.

The head of Britain’s Financial Services Authority said the banks didn’t ask for anything at the talks.

“It was not a negotiation or a debate,” Adair Turner said. “It was a discussion of a full range of issues organized in breakout groups and discussions.”

On the government side, besides Frank, those at the meeting included Lawrence Summers, President Barack Obama’s top economic adviser, British treasury chief Alistair Darling and French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde.

Other bankers attending the private talks included Bank of America Corp. CEO Brian Moynihan, JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chairman Jacob Frenkel and Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank, which oversees the 16-nation euro zone.

“It was the most constructive dialogue I’ve seen between policymakers and industry officials and hopefully that’s a base people can build from,” said Duncan Niederauer, CEO of stock exchange operator NYSE Euronext Inc.

“It was the first time I’ve seen both sides go beyond the rhetoric. There were practical suggestions being discussed,” he added.

The bankers were asked for their input, Frank said, but they got the message that governments were now calling the shots after spending billions to bail out the industry.

“To the extent that the world financial institutions tell us that we couldn’t regulate, we ignore them,” he said. “To the extent that they accept the need for regulation and are ready to work with us to make proposals about how best to do it, that will work well.”

Frank said the most important element of the meeting was coordinating and better understanding the various approaches that governments are taking to stabilize and prevent excessive risks in their financial industries.

The aim was not to push for a global financial governing system, Frank said, saying each country could deal with the crisis on its own terms.

“We welcome the move in the global financial system to put in place a reasonable regulatory structure,” said Montek Ahluwalia, the deputy chairman of India’s Planning Commission.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the International Monetary Fund chief, said financial sector reforms should be bold, but handled in close cooperation so that no countries suffer as a result.

He also advised economic leaders to exercise caution as they start looking at exiting their respective stimulus packages, saying a hasty advance could backfire.

“If we exit too late, public debt will be higher,” he said. “But if we exit too early, there is the risk of a double-dip recession.”

That is a scenario where a nascent recovery lurches back into a slow down.

Lagarde, the French minister, said national leaders would have to manage, carefully, the frustrations of their citizens as the recovery snakes along.

Summers, in an apt description that may find resonance among those without jobs, noted that “what we’re seeing in the United States, and perhaps in some other places, is a statistical recovery and a human recession.”

___

Associated Press writers Bradley S. Klapper and Angela Charlton and AP Business Writer Matt Moore contributed to this report.

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