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Hank Paulson: Another Financial Crisis Is 'a Certainty'

By Glenn J. Kalinoski   |   Friday, 13 Sep 2013 12:41 PM

The crisis that brought the world to the brink of financial collapse five years ago could be repeated.

That was the message from former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson when he appeared before economists and bankers at the meeting of the Economic Club of New York this week. He played a crucial role in attempts to save the financial system following the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers on Sept. 15, 2008.

Paulson explained that he made mistakes during the crisis. "Almost every mistake was a communications issue," he said, adding that he is frustrated that Main Street doesn’t understand what he did "wasn’t for Wall Street; it was for them."

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Paulson listed reasons another crisis is a possibility, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

First, mortgage finance behemoths Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae remain government entities and it's politically problematic for the government to shrink them to a manageable size since they're making considerable money.

Second, the shadow banking system is still a problem and "more needs to be done" to fix repo securitized lending. Moreover, Paulson wants more disclosure regarding the holdings of money market mutual funds.

Third, he noted that there are too many financial regulators and they tend to engage in "dysfunctional" competition, which he described as "a big problem."

Paulson added that Congress has tied the hands of the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department in dealing with a future crisis. Bloomberg Businessweek reported that Paulson's Treasury in 2008 used its exchange stabilization fund to guarantee the assets of money market mutual funds, "a measure that prevented a run on those funds that would have crippled the financial system." The Treasury would not be permitted to do that today.

In a look back at the crisis published in the Sept. 16-22 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, Paulson discussed the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

"The way I read the polls, TARP was more unpopular than torture. We don’t like bailouts in this country. If you take a risk and make money? That's good. But if you take a risk and the government has to come in and save you? Well, I understand the anger," he stated.

"I was never able to convince the American people that what we did with TARP was not for the banks. It was for them. It was to save Main Street. It was to save our economy from a catastrophe."

Paulson believes there will be another financial crisis.

"It’s a certainty. As long as we have markets, as long as we have banks, no matter what the regulatory system is, there will be flawed government policies. Those policies will create bubbles. They will manifest themselves in a financial system no matter how it’s structured and how it's regulated. But the key thing is to have the tools and the political will to act forcefully to limit a crisis," he explained.

"The capital program we designed to get out [of the crisis] and put capital into hundreds of banks very, very quickly and recapitalized the U.S. financial system, is a huge success. That money has come back, all that, plus $32 billion," Paulson told CNBC.

"I am a believer in the Ben Bernanke stimulus programs [that followed]. Even though we have low growth, this economy has been growing at 2 percent since 2009, while we've undergone this sort of massive and necessary deleveraging."

Paulson did not offer up who he believes President Obama should nominate to replace Bernanke as chairman of the Fed. "If he [Obama] wants my advice, he'll ask me. So far he hasn’t, strangely enough," he said at the meeting in New York.

Paulson told CNBC he knows former Treasury Secretary and Obama economic adviser Larry Summers a lot better than that he does Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen.

"I like Larry," Paulson stated. "He's a very capable guy. I'm a friend of Larry."

He said he's not entering into the debate because he's been "distressed at the extent to which it has been politicized. I don’t know how this happened, but it shouldn’t be. It's too important a job.

Editor’s Note: Opinion: Retirees to Be Hit With Social Security Cuts

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