Economic Outlook: Atlantic crossing

By ANTHONY HALL, United Press International  |  March 4, 2010 at 7:48 AM
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President Barack Obama's effort to reign in bank risks and size met with quick criticism from overseas on the day Congress was handed a formal proposal.

British business secretary Peter Mandelson jumped on the concept of banning banks from proprietary trading and keeping their liabilities to less than 10 percent of all liabilities in the financial market, a rule that would prevent mergers of financial behemoths -- the types of mergers, by the way, that helped rescue the financial system from collapse during the financial crisis, Wells Fargo & Co. gobbling up Wachovia, or JPMorgan Chase scooping up Bear Stearns, for example.

Mandelson said the so-called Volcker rule -- named for former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker -- would be "too difficult," adding the proposal Obama gave to lawmakers Wednesday "came as a bit of a surprise to people working on the Group of 20 agenda."

"Trying to apply sweeping rules about the structure, content and range of activities of banking entities is too difficult to do. Whatever their size, whatever their range of activities, you need good regulation," The Financial Times quoted him as saying.

The proposition met with a lukewarm reception elsewhere in Europe with European Union finance ministers stating in a policy paper that policies should "avoid pushing risks to other parts of the financial system." In other words, regulators are at least empowered to deal with banks. On the other hand, who knows what unregulated high rollers lurk in the shadows ready to take over the banks' gambling habit if banks have to give that up.

In financial news Thursday, the headlines pointed overseas. The Wall Street Journal headlined an article on British debt. The New York Times, in bold print, said "Traders seek out the next Greece in an ailing Europe," detailing the possibility that Greece is just the tip of the iceberg, with Spain, Portugal or Italy as possible second acts – "and, to a lesser degree, Ireland," the Times said.

Greece announced austerity measures this week meant to reassure investors of its seriousness in dealing with government debt that has reached more than four times the 3 percent guideline set by the European Union. However, "if the problems of Greece aren't addressed now, there is a risk the market will focus on the next weakest link in the chain," Jim Caron, global head of interest rate strategy at Morgan Stanley told the Times.

With a critical trading partner wounded, Asian markets fell Thursday. The Nikkei 225 index in Japan fell 1.05 percent, while the Shanghai composite index in China dropped 2.38 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong lost 1.44 percent, while the Sensex in India slipped 0.17 percent.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.31 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 in Britain lost 0.06 percent, while the DAX 30 in Germany lost 0.27 percent. The CAC 40 in France slide 0.16 percent, while the pan-European DJ Stoxx 50 lost 0.11 percent.

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