Marketplace Middle East - Blog
9/25/08
New World Disorder
Henry Paulson, who cut his teeth in one of the toughest shops on Wall Street to rise to the top at Goldman Sachs, finds an entirely different dynamic on Capitol Hill these days.

One can charge ahead like a locomotive with great steam within the confines of your own company, but garnering support from both sides of the aisle in Washington during the eye of the storm is a whole new ball game. Secretary Paulson has teamed up -- quite artfully -- with Federal Reserve Board chairman, Ben Bernanke, despite their different personalities and backgrounds, one being a financier, the other an academic.

Cries of “financial socialism” emerged from their Capitol Hill committee appearances for the $700 billion bailout package which has the U.S. government, and therefore the U.S. taxpayer, assuming all the risk for the gambling undertaken by Paulson’s former circle of bankers.

While this remains a U.S.-led banking crisis, it is difficult to find a calm port in the storm. Bankers in Britain and continental Europe are still trying to count up their exposure. This week, the central bank in the United Arab Emirates set up a $14 billion pool of funds to free up lending, primarily in Dubai. Here in this column we have talked about the $1 trillion of projects now on the books in the region, a third of those sit on the sands of the U.A.E. The government is not eager for lending to freeze up and construction to grind to a halt.

The market panic, which has gripped every investor in the past two weeks, hit as it became clear that a re-evaluation of Gulf currencies against the dollar was not a priority. As a result, foreign capital quickly exited the region when the sell-off spread. Most equity markets in the Middle East are down by a third from their peaks.

It is a rare instance when the world’s financial disorder finds its way to the floor of the United Nations, but that was the case at the General Assembly where U.S. President George W. Bush told leaders that Washington was taking the “bold steps” necessary to turn the tide on the crisis. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, following up his recent efforts on the global diplomatic scene in Georgia and with the E.U. Med effort, is looking at the bigger picture.

Sarkozy stated, “The 21st century world cannot be governed with institutions of the 20th century.” The French president is proposing a summit after the U.S. elections aimed at bringing together a cross section of the global economy, the G7 plus Brazil, Russia, India, China (the so-called BRIC countries) to discuss regulated capitalism.

Broadly put, the regulators have been far behind the pace set by the commercial bankers who have come up with a whole range of fancy products that were bought by many but understood by few. That should change and coordination amongst the new and old economic powers needs to improve. The risks assumed by America’s brand name banks should have shown up like flashing red lights on the regulatory radar; ditto for the futures trading that helped drive oil prices to a record $147 a barrel this summer.

The problem is the lack of a global regulator looking at the bigger picture these days. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) all have their own briefs, but they have all been noticeably absent during this crisis.

There has been an effort to expand the G7 to include five fast-growing economies, the BRIC countries, plus South Africa. That effort has stalled with some members of the G7 feeling threatened by the emerging players. If there is a silver lining from this crisis, it may come in the form of a rejuvenated effort to see eye to eye on a new financial architecture. While they are looking at new blueprints and new models, it should be more inclusive if the fast growing sovereign funds of the Middle East have a voice. While no individual country in the region can claim a seat just yet, it is pretty difficult to ignore the petrodollars and the $1.5 trillion now on hand for global investment.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG
John Defterios’ blog accompanies the weekly business program, Marketplace Middle East (MME) that is dedicated to the latest financial news from the Middle East. As MME anchor, John Defterios talks to the people in the know, finding out their opinions on the big business moves in the region, he provides his views via this weekly blog. We hope you will join the discussion around the issues raised.
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