Banking bigwigs debate at Davos

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DAVOS: Heavyweights in the banking world on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) debated whether the financial crisis had turned a real corner, or whether the demons of the past could fast return.

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“Markets are safer,” said Douglas Flint, chief executive of Anglo-Asian banking giant HSBC, sitting at a roundtable debate at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“It would be extraordinary and a shocking indictment if after six year of a crisis the system wasn’t better than it was before the crisis,” he said.

To Flint, much had been done since the terrifying days of the Lehman Brothers bank collapse in 2008.

He said that banks today spent more time on regulatory matters than ever before, and the industry showed more self-regulation than any other, save perhaps the nuclear sector.

“Regulatory matters, oversight, probably takes minimum of 50 percent of board time and more likely two-thirds of board time,” he said.

But Paul Singer, head of investment firm Elliott Management was far more doubtful on the progress made since the crisis and feared that measures taken, especially by central banks, may have created as yet unknown threats.

In the past few years, central banks, led by the US Federal Reserve, have pumped unprecedented sums of cash into the world financial system without having any real understanding of how the policy could play out in the long term, he said.

“There is no telling whether the unwinding of that policy will be moderately disruptive, not disruptive at all” or bring a “cascade” of “intense and brutal changes in the prices of stocks and bonds,” he said.

Overall, economic talk in Davos has shown consensus that recovery in the world economy is underway, but scars of the crisis still remain, especially doubts about the ability of governments to come to the rescue once again.

Singer argued that it was global governments who “called a halt” to the crisis by bailing out the financial system.

Hit by high debt partly brought on by the rescues, the governments this time around “may or may not” be in a position to save the world once again, he warned.

AFP

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