'U.S. Banking System Is Effectively Insolvent' - Soros

by: The Daily Bail

Investor George Soros sees the economy possibly recovering in 2010, he tells Reuters Financial Television (2:08).

A roundtable of Reuters Staff interviews Investor George Soros, Chairman of Soros Fund Management and author of "The Crash of 2008 and What it Means." (13:25)

Soros sat down today with Reuters Television and Bloomberg News.

From Bloomberg:

Billionaire George Soros said the change to fair-value accounting rules will keep troubled banks in business, stalling a recovery of the U.S. economy.

“This is part of the muddling through scenario where we are going to keep zombie banks alive,” Soros, 78, said today in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “It’s going to sap the energies of the economy.”

The Financial Accounting Standards Board last week relaxed so-called mark-to-market rules, allowing banks to use “significant” judgment in gauging prices of some investments on their books. While analysts said the measure may reduce writedowns and boost net income, investor advocates and accounting-industry groups said it will help financial institutions hide their true health.

Soros said that banking system is “seriously under water” with banks on “life support.” U.S. stocks fell for the first time in five days today on concern that government measures to shore up banks may not help as much as expected and loan losses will exceed levels from the Great Depression.

“They are weighed down by a lot of bad assets, which are still declining in value,” he said. “The amount is difficult to estimate, but I think it’s in the region of maybe a trillion- and-a-half dollars.”

Soros said there is a risk the U.S. economy will fall into a depression if nations don’t act collectively to solve the economic crisis.

From Reuters:

The U.S. economy is in for a "lasting slowdown" and could face a Japanese-style period of relatively low growth with the added problem of high inflation, billionaire investor George Soros said on Monday.

Soros told Reuters Financial Television that rescuing U.S. banks could turn them into "zombies" that suck the lifeblood of the economy, prolonging the economic slowdown.

"I don't expect the U.S. economy to recover in the third or fourth quarter so I think we are in for a pretty lasting slowdown," Soros said, adding that in 2010 there might be "something" in terms of U.S. growth.

Most economists expect the U.S. economy to stop contracting in the third quarter and resume growing in the fourth quarter, according to a latest monthly poll of forecasts by Reuters.

The recovery will look like "an inverted square root sign," Soros said: "You hit bottom and you automatically rebound some, but then you don't come out of it in a V-shape recovery or anything like that. You settle down -- step down."

In the fourth quarter, the U.S. economy contracted at a 6.3 percent annualized rate, and economists think the first quarter's slide will be at least as severe, if not worse.

Healing the banking system, which is "basically insolvent," and housing markets is crucial to recovery, Soros said.

The public-private investment funds -- unveiled by the Treasury last month to get bad debts off bank balance sheets -- are going to work but won't be enough to recapitalize the banks so they are able to or willing to provide credit, he said.

Even a steep yield curve won't generate enough profits to keep the banks out of their vulnerable situation.

"What we have created now is a situation where the banks who will be able to earn their way out of a hole, but by doing that, they are going to weigh on the economy.

"Instead of stimulating the economy, they will draw the lifeblood, so to speak, of profits away from the real economy in order to keep themselves alive."

Soros said the "stress tests" of banks being conducted by Treasury, to determine their financial resilience, could be a precursor to a more successful recapitalization of the banks.

"Being the main issuer of international currency, we have been exempt and we have abused that because we have effectively consumed 6.5 percent more than we have produced. That is now coming to an end."

China recently proposed greater use of Special Drawing Rights, possibly as an eventual global reserve currency.

"In the long run, having an international accounting unit rather than the dollar may, in fact, be to our advantage so we can't splurge -- you know, it felt very good for 25 years but now we are paying a very heavy price," Soros said.

China will be the first country to emerge from recession, probably this year, and will spearhead global growth in 2010, Soros said. He said world policymakers are "actually beginning to catch up" with the crisis and efforts to fix structural problems in the financial system.

The system was "fundamentally flawed, and there is no returning to where we came from," he said.


In Europe, he said the crisis provides an incentive for countries that use the euro to remain inside the monetary union, though countries on the periphery still face serious problems.

The euro has been "a tremendous advantage" to countries that use it, adding there's "no question of a weaker country dropping out," Soros said.

While additional resources for the International Monetary Fund will help it stabilize struggling Eastern Europe, he said the Baltic states still face "serious problems" and Ukraine is not far from default.

Widespread use of credit default swaps has worsened the risks for Europe, he said, though he added that Germany, the euro zone's biggest economy, is becoming more open to offering help. "Germany, which has been the most reserved about being the deep pocket of the rest of Europe, has recognized that it too has a responsibility toward the new member states."

Germany has been one of the most reluctant major economies to meet U.S. calls for more fiscal stimulus spending to boost the global economy and fight the financial crisis.

Soros tells Bloomberg and Reuters today that the "US banking sytem is effectively insolvent" and that new "mark-to-market accounting rules keep zombie banks alive."

He continued his subtle push for a new world reserve currency, mentioning the IMF Special Drawing Rights currency basket as an alternative.