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Forex Blog - David Gilmore's Alert. Geithner off the Reservation...Wall Street Beckons

David Gilmore's Alert. Geithner off the Reservation...Wall Street Beckons


After Thursday’s March on Wall Street by the White House, US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, a no better friend the big banks could have, may well be headed to Wall Street himself…his (and Summers) coddling approach to big banks seems to have been thrown under the bus in the wake of the Massachusetts election. 


Geithner’s criticism of the Volcker plan was everywhere Thursday (all anonymously sourced).  And though the Secretary and NEC Director were both on TV Thursday evening pledging support for the plan (Summers even said it was based on their memo to the President earlier this month), this is not a time for mutiny on the O’Bounty.  Geithner’s Wall Street option (monetize political power) is increasingly short-dated with his policy influence now clearly in decline and with bank compensation under the carving knife of Uncle Sam.  What Geithner’s tax problems showed in the confirmation process is that he was never a highly paid financial mogul.  And there is surely nothing more challenging that running with financial moguls on a government pay scale.  He could not even afford to keep his house in Larchmont and quickly put it up for sale (I think it is rented now and unsold). 


So who takes over for Geithner?  Volcker perhaps.  Despite his age Volcker has more gravitas than just about anybody in the policy world and is still on top of his game.  Summers is too radioactive and he and Geithner were peddling the same softly softly approach to bank reform for Obama to pick him to replace Geithner.  Rule out a Wall Street pro being asked to head Treasury…we may not see a former head of Goldman running Treasury again ever.  I need more time to think about whom besides Volcker would be asked and more importantly would take the job.  If it is Volcker this would probably please the Fed which is incredibly worried about losing its senior bank regulatory role under the Dodd bill as Volcker would likely side with the Fed on this issue as the former Chairman of the Board of Governors.   Some consolation for a current Fed Chairman who can’t seem to get a confirmation vote in the Senate and time is running out (9 days left less 2 for debate) before his current term expires.  And markets are buzzing with news that Majority Leader Reid met with Bernanke Thursday and warned he may not have enough votes to confirm him (Bunning prevails?).  Talk about disarray…and Obama can’t marshal Democrats in the Senate to vote for Bernanke after Tuesday’s Massachusetts fiasco.  If not confirmed before his term expires, this is no game changer…he will be confirmed.  But it is a metaphor for the current state of affairs…policy response, largely counter cyclical, is running out of steam and there remain structural fault lines that continue to threaten the financial system and hence real economy.  Now we need officials to work like a well oiled machine and instead we learned we have political and policy dysfunction at every level of government. 


I would say there is another large crumble in asset prices coming (risk off).  I thought earlier in the week we would see it by the summer, but maybe it has arrived early…cyclical policy response exhausted, policy gridlock in Washington, a still deeply damaged banking system not creating credit in a meaningful way and private demand on permanent holiday. 


David Gilmore



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