Thursday, September 25, 2008

US ‘Will Lose Financial Superpower Status’

The US will lose its role as a global financial “superpower” in the wake of the financial crisis, Peer Steinbrück, German finance minister, forecast on Thursday in the most outspoken comments by a senior European government figure since Wall Street plunged into chaos two weeks ago.

Mr Steinbrück, a Social Democrat and long-time champion of tougher financial market rules, said the US government was to blame for the severity of the crisis because it had resisted European calls for stricter regulation until it was too late.

“The US will lose its status as the superpower of the world financial system” with the emergence of stronger, better-capitalised centres in Asia and Europe, he told the German parliament. “The world will never be the same again.”

His comments echo deep anger in Germany at the perceived recklessness of Anglo-Saxon financial engineering and a feeling that the US model of economic liberalism has failed while the more regulated, long-term oriented and industry-based German economy has proved more resilient.

“Ten years from now,” he later told journalists, “we will see 2008 as a fundamental rupture. I am not saying the dollar will lose its reserve currency status, but it will become relative.”

The minister said it had been “irresponsible” of the US government to oppose stricter regulation even after the subprime crisis had broken out. This laisser faire ideology, he said, “was as simplistic as it was dangerous ... This largely under-regulated system is collapsing today.”

Mr Steinbrück did have warm words for the US’s crisis management in the past fortnight, including the planned $700bn rescue package for the financial sector. Washington, he said, had acted not just in the US’s interest but also in the interest of other nations.

Speaking after Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president and current holder of the European Union presidency, called for an emergency G8 meeting on the financial crisis, Mr Steinbrück said tougher capital market rules were now urgently needed.

His proposals include a ban on “speculative short selling”; a crackdown on variable pay for bankers; a ban on banks securitising more than 80 per cent of any asset they hold; international standards making bank managers personally responsible for their trades and increased supervisory co-operation.

He said France and Germany would set up a working group of treasury, central bank and supervisory authority officials.

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