U.S. delaying debt reckoning - UBS chief
Relying on the Federal Reserve to shore up the economy while agreeing to short-term budget deals risks storing up trouble for the United States down the road, Axel Weber, chairman of Swiss bank UBS, said Wednesday.
Weber, former president of Germany's Bundesbank, said quantitative easing to pump cash into developed economies had been the right policy from 2007-2010, but it had helped create the impression that central banks were "the only game in town."
"Central banks can only do certain things," he said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "Deeper issues are still there."
The Fed has indicated it intends to keep buying assets such as Treasuries in order to stimulate the economy until the labor market improves "substantially."
But even though economists predict unemployment will still be at 7.5% at the end of this year, little improved from the current 7.8% rate, they are divided on whether the Fed will stop its purchase program this year.
Weber said U.S. debates about the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling were backward. Rather than viewing the ceiling as a limit on borrowing and a requirement to find ways to bring down debt, the focus seemed to be on how to increase it.
"Sooner or later the US has to face the fiscal issues, not just in the sense of delaying adjustment but really making a credible adjustment," Weber told CNN's Richard Quest.
"They can kick the can down the road for a lot longer than others might be able to, but at the end you've got to have a credible solution. I'm not saying it needs to be now, I'm not saying it needs to be anytime soon but it needs to be part of the policy framework."
The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a "No Budget, No Pay Act," a Republican bill that would effectively defuse the debt ceiling threat for several months. The bill would let the Treasury Department borrow new money until mid-May. In exchange, the legislation would require lawmakers in both chambers of Congress to pass a budget resolution or have their pay withheld until they do so.
"This is just buying time," Weber said. "We are now living at the expense of future generations -- that's not a long-term sustainable solution."
The deal Congress struck on Jan. 1 to avert the fiscal cliff postponed difficult decisions on the debt ceiling, a series of automatic spending cuts and a 2014 budget resolution.
Central banks in the U.S., Europe and Japan have spent trillions buying government bonds to keep interest rates low and promote lending to businesses and households. Some central bankers have argued that quantitative easing is reaching the limit of its effectiveness.
"Going forward (central banks) have to answer the bigger question of how they will orderly exit from where they are now," Weber said.
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