G-20 Outlines Coordinated Plan on Impaired Assets

Treasury secretary Tim Geithner on Saturday commended the Group of Twenty (G-20) global financial advisers for supporting the U.S. movement for increased emergency International Monetary Fund resources and expanded G-20 membership. The road to stabilizing the global economy still has a long way to go, according to Geithner, and global finance regulators must now turn their attention to stabilizing financial institutions and reforming the way globally significant banks do business. “Risk does not respect national borders,” he said at the G-20 meeting in Horsham, England. “We must establish a much stronger form of oversight and clear rules of the game…. This will require comprehensive changes both at the national and international levels.” He used U.S. regulators as an example of model tactics others might follow, saying the U.S. will soon outline a plan to use “market mechanisms” to clean up bad assets and bring in private capital to bank balance sheets. The country will also soon release a comprehensive regulatory overhaul, a strategy Geithner said will show U.S. “commitment to encourage a race to the top rather than a race to the bottom; a global move to higher standards.” Geithner urged significant institutions to “come within a much stronger framework of oversight,” and for markets “including the derivatives markets” to be subject to a set of standards and a framework for disclosure. He also said the United States should implement better stability going forward to ensure capital and accounting requirements are being upheld, and should “promote financial market integrity.” “Alongside these actions must come a clear commitment, when recovery is firmly established, to return to fiscal sustainability and to unwind the extraordinary policy actions needed to restore economic growth and solve the financial crisis,” Geithner said. The G-20 as a whole voiced its support for sweeping action to restore lending, and even released a framework of financial repair and recovery efforts it may use going forward. “We are committed to taking decisive action, where needed, and to use all available tools to restore the full functioning of financial markets, and in particular to underpin the flow of credit, both domestically and globally,” the G-20 members said in a published statement. While they said the key priority now is to address the value of assets held on banks’ balance sheets — which are significantly constraining banks’ ability to lend — other actions to restore the financial markets include providing liquidity support, pledging government guarantees to financial institutions’ liabilities, injecting capital and protecting savings and deposits. G-20 members authored a list of a dozen principals they said should help guide efforts on impaired assets, beginning with the necessary international cooperation, “given the interconnectedness of the global financial system.” They also advised any programs formed to combat impaired assets “should be appropriate to the characteristics of the banking, legislative and fiscal frameworks.” Eligibility of assets for participation in the programs should remain flexible to account for differing conditions in balance sheets, countries of origin and the size and type of impaired asset in question. “If risk is to be transferred from the banking sector to governments, it should be at a fair price, including through fees, with appropriate risk sharing, to limit the cost to the government as well as prevent moral hazard, provide the right incentives to the participating institutions and maintain a level playing field across financial institutions, both nationally and internationally,” the G-20 members said. They also called for “full and transparent disclosure” of impairments on balance sheets and for transparent and consistent valuation methods across the various asset resolution programs. When firms finally receive government support, their responsibility only increases, G-20 members said, calling for continued “business principles” after the receipt of aid, to ensure credit allocation isn’t distorted. Any restructurings that occur within such institutions should focus on maximizing the effectiveness of government support and should be priced on expected losses and the bank’s ability to withstand such losses. The interest of taxpayers must be foremost among banks that participate in asset support programs, and such banks must be subject to close monitoring, G-20 members said. Finally, government support should be temporary, defined with clear exit strategies and a working part of a “sustainable medium-term fiscal strategy.” “Government support is a privilege and must come with strong conditions, such as a commitment to continue providing credit to appropriately meet demands according to commercial criteria, improving governance, dividend policy restrictions and executive remuneration caps,” the G-20 members said. Read the G-20 plan for restoring lending. Write to Diana Golobay at

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