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Warning issued on global economy

By Diao Ying in Davos (China Daily)

08:10, January 24, 2013

The global financial structure remains little changed five years on from the onset of the crisis and more needs to be done, the deputy director general of the International Monetary Fund said.

"With all the debates going on, the financial structure is largely unchanged," Zhu Min said. He also warned against undue optimism that the worst of the financial crisis is behind us. "We are not safe yet," he warned.

Zhu was speaking at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss city of Davos. Financial institutions and regulators have still got much to do before the global financial system is resilient again, he said.

Financial markets are much the same as they were in 2008, he added.

The main question facing the financial sector concerns the size of banks, Zhu said.

Their leverage ratio is still too high and financial products are still too complicated, he said.

It was the inability of the sector to fully grasp the complexity of derivatives and the ticking time bomb of subprime mortgages that played a major part in the financial meltdown of 2008. In short, banks did not fully realize the extent of the losses they had on their books.

He said the financial sector and governments should work together to solve these problems and that the time for talking, especially about regulation, has long passed.

"We are making a huge mistake. Five years later, we are still debating whether we have too much regulation or too little regulation." There is talk, not action, he said

While the old problems remain unsolved, new challenges are emerging that need to be urgently addressed, he warned.

Low interest rates will see entrepreneurs take more risks, and while this is a good thing it must be remembered that the cheap and easy money also played a role in the 2008 crisis, he said.

Zhu highlighted the problems that Europe is facing. The continent still has a long way to go before it enjoys the benefits of a stabilized economy. "In Europe the issues are still there," he said.

Greece, Ireland, Spain, and Portugal are still experiencing funding pressure.

Zhu's concern was echoed by others. "We are heading into a very dangerous environment, where we've been over-leveraged," said Axel Weber, chairman of UBS.

He said many measures taken now are just buying time and fail to address the core issues.

"We are living now at the expense of future generations," he said.

Paul Singer, of Elliot Management, a hedge fund, said monetary easing can lead to a false sense of security. "What it is doing is distorting the price of debt, and allowing an excuse to be made not to pursue growth measures," he said.

Contact the writer at [email protected]

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