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When Fat Cats Meet In Munich: Welcoming the International Monetary Conference

When Fat Cats Meet In Munich: Welcoming the International Monetary Conference

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally posted at Occupy.com

2 June 2014

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In Part 1 of this series, I examined the history and early evolution of the annual meeting that takes place among world bankers and financial and monetary officials at the International Monetary Conference. Part 2 looked at the role of the IMC in the lead-up to the 1980s debt crisis.Part 3 examined the influence of the IMC throughout that decade’s debt crisis. This last installment – published just as the IMC prepares for its June 1-3 meeting at Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich, Germany – looks at what the IMC has done since the 1990s to maintain its status among the world’s most highly influential bodies in economic, financial and monetary affairs. Included is a rundown of bankers who run the IMC along with leaked documents from the 2013 meeting in Shanghai.

At the 1992 International Monetary Conference in Toronto, there was a general consensus among private bankers and public officials that, as a result of enormous over-lending to Latin America and developing countries throughout the previous debt-crisis decade, the task of financing “the transformation of the former Soviet Union to a market economy” could not be left to bank loans alone. Hilmar Kopper, the CEO of Deutsche Bank, told the conference attendees that commercial banks would only engage in large-scale financing if there were “government-guaranteed credits” and “an agreement on the old debt,” implying that the banks would essentially need the guarantee of a government bailout scheme if things got bad. Japan’s former vice minister of finance, Toyoo Gyohten, told the attendees that “public-sector agencies must cooperate with private banks, with the willingness to share the unavoidable risk.”

Canada’s finance minister, Don Mazankowski, told the bankers that “we are prepared to help” the former Soviet bloc countries so long as “they help themselves and get on the path to economic growth and prosperity.” His words implied that the Soviet countries must undertake similar austerity and structural adjustment packages imposed upon other countries through the 1980s debt crisis. The bankers stressed the same point, noting that “it would be difficult for governments to be generous with Russia until it established an economic recovery program approved by the International Monetary Fund.”

Throughout the 1990s, the IMC continued to be a significant forum for discussion among bankers and finance officials. Remarks made by Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and Hans Tietmeyer, the president of Germany’s Bundesbank (the Central Bank of Germany), at the 1995 meeting of the IMC led to a strengthening of the U.S. dollar and a weakening of the German mark in international currency markets.

IMC Influence in More Recent Years

In the early 21st century, the International Monetary Conference has remained relevant, as admitted during a 2001 press conference with the president of the European Central Bank, Willem F. Duisenberg. Duisenberg had been criticized by European media for not attending a recent Eurogroup meeting of finance ministers and central bankers from euro-currency countries, which had gathered in Brussels.

Duisenberg commented:

“I would like to point out that it has been a tradition since 1954 that the highlight of the annual International Monetary Conference, which is held in a different place every year, is the so-called Central Bankers’ Panel in which the central banks, or central bankers, of the three main currencies in the world participate. And I did so. It would have drawn more attention had I not been there, than had I been in Brussels… I can tell you that the next meeting of the International Monetary Conference will be … in Montreal [in 2002], and the year after it will be … in Berlin. On both occasions you can be sure, if it happens to coincide with the meeting of the Eurogroup, that the ECB will be represented in the Eurogroup by the Vice-President.

Indeed, as recently as the IMC’s 2013 meeting in Shanghai, we can see that the importance and relevance of the annual meeting has not diminished. Though the IMC has no publicly-accessible website, I managed to compile a rough list of leading officials and board members of the International Monetary Conference, drawing information from references on their official CVs and publicly-available biographies, as well as from leaked documents including a program overview of the 2013 conference.

Names to Know

The president and chairman of the International Monetary Conference is Baudouin Prot. Formerly CEO of BNP Paribas, one of France’s largest global banks, Prot is currently chairman of that bank as well as a current board member of Kering, Veolia Environment, Lafarge, Erbé SA and Pargesa Holding SA. He is a member of the International Advisory panel to the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council to the Major of Shanghai, the European Financial Services Round Table, and is chairman of the European Banking Group.

The executive vice president of the IMC is Frank Keating, President and CEO of the American Bankers Association and former president and CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers (2003-2011). Keating is also the former governor of Oklahoma (1995-2003), a former official in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and a former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. Additionally he is a member of the board of directors of the National Archives Foundation, the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Jamestown Foundation, and he was a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force in 2010.

Confirmed board members of the International Monetary Conference include: Gordon Nixon, President and CEO of Royal Bank of Canada; William Downe, CEO of BMO Financial Group; Axel Weber, Chairman of UBS; Francisco Gonzalez, Chairman and CEO of BBVA; Robert E. Setubal, President and CEO of Itau Unibanco Banco SA; Richard Waugh, President and CEO of Scotiabank; Chanda Kochhar, Managing Director and CEO of ICICI Bank; Jacko Maree, senior banker at Standard Chartered; Andreas Triechl, Chairman and CEO of Erste Group Bank; and Walter B. Kielholz, the Chairman of Swiss Re.

Interestingly, there are no major American banks or bankers listed as current board members of the IMC, which is dominated by European and Canadian bankers. Further, there were three bankers whose CVs listed them as “members” of the IMC, but when I attempted to contact the IMC and the American Bankers Association to confirm whether they were board members – the IMC has roughly 15 board members, and I had only confirmed 12 of them – neither the ABA nor IMC replied to my multiple inquiries. The three bankers who were listed as “members” – and possible, though unconfirmed, board members – are Federico Ghizzoni, the CEO of UniCredit; Douglas Flint, the Chairman of HSBC (also chairman of the Institute of International Finance), and Ibrahim S. Dabdoub, the CEO of the National Bank of Kuwait.

Compiling the CVs of the 12 confirmed board members of the International Monetary Conference, we can see what other institutions are most represented among the membership:

Four members of the IMC board are also members of the Institute of International Finance, the leading global banking lobby group; four IMC board members are also members of the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum and the European Financial Services Round Table (EFR), a group of leading European bankers. And three IMC board members are also represented in the European Banking Group, created to advise the European Union on financial market “regulations,” as well as the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), the leading corporate interest group in Canada.

Other organizations sharing leadership with two members of the IMC board are the International Advisory Panel of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council to the Major of Shanghai, and the International Advisory Committee of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

If we include the three bankers whose CVs listed them as “members” of the IMC, the cross-over representation of leadership in these institutions increases: the European Financial Services Round Table increases representation from four to six members of the IMC board, the European Banking Group from three to five members, the Institute of International Finance from four to five, and the International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council to the Mayor of Shanghai increases from two to three.

Leaked Details from Shanghai

Leaked documents from the 2013 IMC meeting in Shanghai show the planned program for the four-day conference held at the Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai in early June of 2013. Welcoming remarks were presented by the President and CEO of the American Bankers Association, Frank Keating, followed by opening remarks from the BNP Paribas chairman and president of the IMC, Baudouin Prot.

On Monday, June 3, speakers at the IMC included Han Zheng, a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC (Communist Party of China) Central Committee; Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank; Douglas Flint, Chairman of HSBC and Chairman of the Institute of International Finance (unconfirmed board member of the IMC); Jaime Caruana, General Manager of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS); Lord Adair Turner, former chairman of the Financial Services Authority in the UK and a Senior Fellow of the Institute for New Economic Thinking; and Janet Yellen, Vice Chair and Governor (now current Chair) of the Federal Reserve Board.

Other speakers at the 2013 International Monetary Conference included Axel A. Weber, Chairman of UBS; Niall Ferguson, the Lawrence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University; Jacob A. Frenkel, Chairman of JPMorgan Chase International and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Group of Thirty (G30); Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance in the Government of Singapore; Zhou Xiaochuan, Governor of the People’s Bank of China (China’s Central Bank); Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase; Jurgen Fitschen, co-Chairman of Deutsche Bank; John G. Strumpf, Chairman, President and CEO of Wells Fargo; Francisco Gonzalez, Chairman and CEO of BBVA; Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP; and Victor Yuan, Chairman and President of Horizon Research Consultancy Group.

Additional speakers at the conference included Jiang Jianqing, Chairman of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC); Stephen Bird, CEO for Asia Pacific at Citibank in Hong Kong; Michael Pettis, Professor of International Finance at the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University in Beijing; Peter Sands, Chief Executive of Standard Chartered; Shang Fulin, Chairman of the China Banking Regulatory Commission; Tian Guoli, Chairman of the Bank of China; and Andrew Sheng, President of the Fung Global Institute in Hong Kong.

The fact alone that this group of global financiers met with China’s leading bankers and top government officials within China points to the continuing relevance of the International Monetary Conference. What’s more, Janet Yellen, then a contender for the position of Chair of the Federal Reserve Board, attended the IMC meeting while sitting as Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve, and outlined her views on “what more should be done” to “make the global financial system more resilient.”

One of the key issues Yellen discussed in her speech to hundreds of global bankers assembled at the 2013 IMC was the concept of “too-big-to-fail” banks, what the regulatory agencies (and, notably, central banks) refer to as “systemically-important financial institutions,” or SIFIs. Yellen noted that there have been proposals for a “sweeping restructuring of the banking system,” including the possibility of the “resurrection of Glass-Steagall-style separation of commercial banking from investment banking and imposition of bank size limits.” However, Yellen reassured the financiers, “I am not persuaded that such blunt approaches would be the most efficient ways to address the too-big-to-fail problem.”

Indeed, systemic problems of the global monetary, financial and economic system will likely remain unresolved so long as forums like the International Monetary Conference are permitted to take place outside public scrutiny. Such meetings, where central bankers, regulators and leading financial policy makers meet in private with the world’s most influential bankers, only encourage consensus, closer cooperation and, ultimately, collusion between our so-called public officials and the bankers who profited off the financial and economic destruction which they themselves caused.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is project manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the geopolitics division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and the World of Resistance (WoR) Report, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

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How the International Monetary Conference Helped Fuel the 1980s Debt Crisis

How the International Monetary Conference Helped Fuel the 1980s Debt Crisis

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally posted at Occupy.com

14 May 2014

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Last week, in Part 1 of the Global Power Project’s investigations into the machinery behind the International Monetary Conference, I examined the history and evolution of the IMC from its founding by the American Bankers Association in 1954 to the global financial and monetary disruptions of the late 1970s.

The IMC, happening June 1-3 in Munich, brings together hundreds of top bankers with leading finance officials and central bankers from the world’s industrial powers to discuss major economic, financial and monetary issues of the day – and to form a consensus on policies for managing the world economic order. In part 2 of the series, I look at the role of the IMC in the lead-up to the 1980s debt crisis.

What Fueled the Debt Crisis?

The 1980s debt crisis erupted when Mexico announced in 1982 that it could no longer service its debts to Western, and primarily American, banks. This resulted in a crisis that quickly spread across Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia. The oil price rises of the 1970s had led to a surge in revenues for oil-producing nations, which had invested their surplus oil wealth in Western banks that then lent the money to poor, developing nations requiring oil in order to finance their industrialization.

Then, following the 1979 oil shocks, the Federal Reserve in the United States decided to dramatically increase interest rates. The result: interest payments on “third world” debts skyrocketed, ultimately forcing Mexico and other nations to seek bailouts in order to pay their interest to the world’s major banks.

At the 1980 International Monetary Conference meeting, two years before the debt crisis erupted, some of the world’s top bankers – particularly Wilfried Guth, the managing director of Deutsche Bank – warned that a “safety net” may be needed to bail out the major banks that lent money to the developing world. Chase Manhattan Chairman David Rockefeller, who also attended the meeting, agreed that such a “safety net” for the banks was “well worth considering.”

Other leading bankers warned that since the world’s major banks were big lenders to each other, there was “a danger that if one large institution were to fail, a chain reaction could be started that would topple other banks around the world.” (“A ‘Safety Net’ for Banks is Proposed,” New York Times, June 3, 1980).

An Exclusive Event

The June 1980 meeting of the IMC took place in New Orleans, to which The New York Times reported that “only the most elite of the world’s financiers are invited.” American participants at that year’s meeting included Treasury Secretary G. William Miller and Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul A. Volcker, as well as the chairmen of America’s three largest banks: David Rockefeller (Chase Manhattan), A.W. Clausen (Bank of America) and Walter Wriston (Citibank). The New York Times noted that the IMC “has been a forum where the heavyweights of world finance often take off their gloves.” (“Bankers Meet in Discord,” New York Times, 2 June 1980).

The bankers who attended the conference to discuss issues of debt and poverty were greeted at the New Orleans airport by police officers who provided them with security and doubled as “porters and chauffeurs,” driving the bankers in unmarked police cars to their hotels. The IMC, which is presided over by a 15-member board that decides who gets invited to the yearly meetings, admits banks based upon their size and the scope of their international operations.

At this gathering, eight of the 15 board members were Americans, including Walter B. Wriston, chairman of Citibank; Willis W. Alexander, executive vice president of the American Bankers Association, and leading figures representing First National Bank of Chicago, Wells Fargo, Mellon Bank and Chemical Bank, among others (“The Talk of New Orleans: Agonies of World Banking,” New York Times, 8 June 1980).

Though official sessions of the meeting were closed to the press, in briefings afterward the bankers warned that some developing nations were having increasing difficulty paying interest on their debts to the big banks – and that although the situation had not yet reached crisis proportions, they were wary of what was to come. David Rockefeller declared an urgency “for official organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund, to increase their lending to oil-consuming countries,” and suggested that “private banks and the international institutions should work more closely together.”

Likewise, Wilfried Guth of Deutsche Bank presented a 35-page paper in which he stated that the global financial system was “fairly under control for 1980,” but warned that “critical developments are feared for 1981 and later” when many developing nations “will find it extremely difficult to raise the money they need to pay for oil and other essential imports, including food.” Powerful bankers and monetary officials at the conference widely supported Guth’s paper and presentation, with David Rockefeller warning that international loans given by commercial banks had already surpassed $1 trillion.

The global bankers noted that the underlying issue was “the huge transfer of wealth from the oil-consuming nations to the oil-producing nations,” and warned that “economic stability can be achieved only if the oil-consuming countries accept declines in their living standards” and “an indefinite recession” (“Oil Payment Worries Grow,” New York Times, 7 June 1980).

Meanwhile, the most popular person at the conference that year was a specially-invited guest named Milton Friedman, the University of Chicago economist known for his promotion of neoliberal economic orthodoxy. As the New York Times noted, “It seemed that just about everyone wanted to sit at Mr. Friedman’s lunch and dinner tables.” Friedman had been invited to the IMC to preside over a debate on nothing less than “how monetary policy should be designed and implemented.”

The 1980 IMC meeting seemed to bear formal fruition when Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency in January of 1981, as his new economic policies won “praise from at least one important foreign group – bankers.” The New York Times noted that the several hundred of the world’s top financiers from the IMC meeting “expressed understanding and support of even the most controversial of American monetary policies – the record interest rates that have strengthened the dollar and battered most foreign currencies as a result.”

It was the very same interest rate hikes that led to highly-indebted poor countries finding themselves unable to pay the increased interest on their loans – which pushed them into bankruptcy and the need for bailouts. But for global bankers, there was nothing but praise. Sir Jeremy Morse, chairman of Lloyds Bank of London one of those in attendance at the IMC, stated that, “In general, most people feel that high interest rates are appropriate to the inflationary position of the Western world, and are appropriate to the United States position.”

The only issue of bankers’ “irritation” with the Reagan administration, it seemed, was the fact that incoming Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan – the Chairman and CEO of Merrill Lynch from 1971 to 1980 – had cancelled his trip to the IMC at the last minute. As many at the conference noted, it was “tradition” to have “a formal address by a senior American economic official.” The President of Wachovia, John G. Medlin Jr., commented, “I think he should have come … I don’t think he understood the importance of this group.”

In the absence of Regan, the responsibility of explaining official American economic policies fell to Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, himself a former official at Chase Manhattan where he had worked for David Rockefeller. Volcker stood up to the challenge and “was a great success among the bankers [at the IMC], many of whom expressed support for him.”

In the next installment of this series investigating the International Monetary Conference, I examine the role of the IMC throughout the 1980s debt crisis and its position as an important, influential forum that helped to articulate and definitively shape consensus around neoliberal Western economic policy.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year-old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is project manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the geopolitics division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and the World of Resistance (WoR) Report, and hosts a