Bush, foreign financial officials try to calm nervous investors
IMF backs G-7 on protecting system
WASHINGTON - President Bush and the world's financial leaders staged repeated displays of unity yesterday to combat an unfolding credit crisis, hoping to calm investors whose panic has spread despite bold and accelerating government action.
While there were no concrete offers of new moves made yesterday, Bush pledged anew that his administration was doing everything possible to halt the biggest market disruptions since the Great Depression and the finance ministers spoke in unusually somber terms about the need for action.
Bush, who had started the day shortly after daybreak with a Rose Garden appearance with finance ministers from the world's richest countries, made an unexpected late-day visit to the headquarters of the 185-nation International Monetary Fund.
With Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, he participated in an evening discussion with the Group of 20, which includes rich countries and major developing nations such as China, Brazil, and India.
Finance Minister Guido Mantega of Brazil said that the president had stressed the seriousness of the current situation and told the finance ministers that he was doing all he could to involve other countries in efforts to resolve the crisis.
In response, the G-20 countries issued a joint statement in which the finance officials pledged to work together "to overcome the financial turmoil and to deepen cooperation to improve the regulation, supervision and the overall functioning of the world's financial markets."
Leaders of 15 European countries that use the euro currency are scheduled to meet this afternoon in Paris to try to agree on a common response to the economic turmoil. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France said yesterday that they opposed the creation of a common financial rescue fund for Europe.
The crisis dominated discussions at the annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank over the weekend.
The IMF strongly endorsed a five-point plan put together by the G-7 nations the day before that pledged to use all means possible to prevent major financial institutions from failing and to keep pumping money into the banking system to unfreeze lending and get credit - the lifeblood of the economy - flowing again.
"The depth and systemic nature of the crisis call for exceptional vigilance, coordination and readiness to take bold action," the IMF said in its joint statement. That statement, in an unusual move, repeated verbatim all of the commitments made in the G-7 statement that had been released on Friday.
"There is a resolve that this crisis will be resolved, that no tools will be spared to address this issue," Egypt's finance minister, Youssef Boutros Ghali, chairman of the IMF's policy panel, told a news conference late yesterday.
In his Rose Garden appearance, Bush made a plea for nations work together to address the crisis, avoiding the go-it-alone protectionist trade strategies that worsened conditions during the Great Depression.
"In an interconnected world, no nation will gain by driving down the fortunes of another. We are in this together. We will come through it together," Bush said. "There have been moments of crisis in the past when powerful nations turned their energies against each other or sought to wall themselves off from the world. This time is different."
White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Bush's commitment to collaborative action was repeated and agreed to by every official and minister who took part in a private White House meeting before the statement.
Participating in that session with the president were top officials from the Group of Seven powers - the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, and Canada - as well as from the European Union, World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Bush did not mention any specific action that prompted his call. But Ireland recently moved to guarantee all bank deposits, triggering similar actions in Germany and other countries concerned that nervous depositors would move their bank accounts to Ireland.
In his White House remarks, the president barely noted a significant new step from his administration - partial nationalization of some banks. After days of speculation this move was coming, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson announced late Friday night that the government would buy part ownership in an array of American banks.
President Hoover tried something like that in 1932 during the Great Depression. No detail was provided about how the Bush administration's approach would work, only that it was similar to Britain's move to pour cash into its troubled banks in exchange for a stake in them. The US government would use an unspecified portion of the $700 billion approved by Congress a week ago to purchase stocks in a wide variety of banks and other financial institutions.
The rescue program originally was sold to Congress and the public as a plan to buy mortgage-related loans from financial institutions. The goal was to remove troubled assets from those institutions' books and inspire them to restart more normal lending operations.
Congress passed the massive and hard-fought legislation, and Bush signed it. The government raised the amount of bank deposits it insured. Billions of dollars of reserves have gone into banking systems in the United States and other countries. Yet credit, the economy's lifeblood, has remained virtually frozen.
This paralysis in the credit markets has translated into intense turmoil in the stock markets.
The Dow Jones industrial average just completed its worst week in history, plummeting more than 18 percent. Over the past year, people in the United States have watched $8.4 trillion drain from investment accounts and retirement savings.