UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

April 29, 2009

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH TIM GEITHNER

Jo Becker and Gretchen Morgenson, NY Times - Even as banks complain that the government has attached too many intrusive strings to its financial assistance, a range of critics - lawmakers, economists and even former Federal Reserve colleagues - say that the bailout Mr. Geithner has played such a central role in fashioning is overly generous to the financial industry at taxpayer expense.

An examination of Mr. Geithner's five years as president of the New York Fed, an era of unbridled and ultimately disastrous risk-taking by the financial industry, shows that he forged unusually close relationships with executives of Wall Street's giant financial institutions.

His actions, as a regulator and later a bailout king, often aligned with the industry's interests and desires, according to interviews with financiers, regulators and analysts and a review of Federal Reserve records.

In a pair of recent interviews and an exchange of e-mail messages, Mr. Geithner defended his record, saying that from very early on, he was "a consistently dark voice about the potential risks ahead, and a principal source of initiatives designed to make the system stronger" before the markets started to collapse.

Mr. Geithner said his actions in the bailout were motivated solely by a desire to help businesses and consumers. But in a financial crisis, he added, "the government has to take risk, and we are going to be doing things which ultimately - in order to get the credit flowing again - are going to benefit the institutions that are at the core of the problem."

The New York Fed is, by custom and design, clubby and opaque. It is charged with curbing banks' risky impulses, yet its president is selected by and reports to a board dominated by the chief executives of some of those same banks. Traditionally, the New York Fed president's intelligence-gathering role has involved routine consultation with financiers, though Mr. Geithner's recent predecessors generally did not meet with them unless senior aides were also present, according to the bank's former general counsel.

By those standards, Mr. Geithner's reliance on bankers, hedge fund managers and others to assess the market's health - and provide guidance once it faltered - stood out.

His calendars from 2007 and 2008 show that those interactions were a mix of the professional and the private.

He ate lunch with senior executives from Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley at the Four Seasons restaurant or in their corporate dining rooms. He attended casual dinners at the homes of executives like Jamie Dimon, a member of the New York Fed board and the chief of JPMorgan Chase.

Mr. Geithner was particularly close to executives of Citigroup, the largest bank under his supervision. Robert E. Rubin, a senior Citi executive and a former Treasury secretary, was Mr. Geithner's mentor from his years in the Clinton administration, and the two kept in close touch in New York.

Mr. Geithner met frequently with Sanford I. Weill, one of Citi's largest individual shareholders and its former chairman, serving on the board of a charity Mr. Weill led. As the bank was entering a financial tailspin, Mr. Weill approached Mr. Geithner about taking over as Citi's chief executive.

But for all his ties to Citi, Mr. Geithner repeatedly missed or overlooked signs that the bank - along with the rest of the financial system - was falling apart. When he did spot trouble, analysts say, his responses were too measured, or too late. . .

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