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Robert Rubin, who as U.S. Treasury secretary in the 1990s promoted a stronger dollar, said he has too much of his personal investments in the currency.
A “disproportionate amount” of his assets are in cash and he “should be more allocated away from the dollar,” Rubin, 73, said yesterday in a speech at the TradeTech conference in New York. He said he also was “greatly overweighted” in private equity and had investments in hedge funds.
Rubin, who served in President Bill Clinton’s administration between holding senior jobs at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) and Citigroup Inc. (C), had a so-called strong-dollar policy as Treasury secretary that successors followed. He said yesterday that his support for Federal Reserve quantitative easing has waned since the initial round, known as QE1.
“QE1 was a necessity, QE2 I sort of wondered about,” he said. “QE3 would accomplish very little. Not only would it expand the money supply, it would undermine confidence that the Fed would ultimately monetize our debt.”
The U.S. economic outlook is the “most uncertain and the most complex” it’s been in the past half-century, Rubin said. He cited concerns about the European sovereign-debt crisis, the labor and housing markets, and stagnant mean wages. A lack of change in U.S. income distribution “could undermine public support for trade and market-based economics,” he said.
Rubin, who left the Treasury in 1999, collected more than $150 million in pay from Citigroup in the decade that followed. He took a part-time counselor role at merger-advisory boutique Centerview Partners LLP in 2010 and stopped advising hedge funds Taconic Capital Advisors LP and Farallon Capital Management LLC, Adam Miller, his spokesman, said at the time.
The role of Treasury secretary requires a knowledge of markets and politics that’s hard to prepare for and he “probably would have failed” if he’d gone into the job straight from Goldman Sachs instead of serving first as director of the National Economic Council, Rubin said. Whoever is elected president in November may be tempted to pick a corporate chief executive officer for the role even though CEOs of corporations are accustomed to a hierarchical environment, he said.
Timothy F. Geithner, the current Treasury secretary, has said he doesn’t expect to remain in office if President Barack Obama is re-elected. Geithner and his predecessors have stuck with Rubin’s phrase that a “strong” dollar is in the nation’s interest. The U.S. Dollar Index, which measures the currency against those of six trading partners, retreated 22 percent since the end of 1999 through yesterday.
The Volcker rule, which seeks to limit federally insured banks from making bets with their own money, could stop big institutions from providing liquidity to the market if it’s not implemented well, Rubin said. While regulators need to allow “large-scale intermediation” for markets to function properly, they will struggle to define the difference between market- making and proprietary trading, he said.
“I think I could spend the rest of my life trying to define that distinction and I wouldn’t succeed at it,” he said.
Rubin said he’s visited China twice in the past six months and has met with the man who will be its next president. While the country has challenges adapting from an export-led economy, growth in China probably will remain strong, he said.
“My overall conclusion is we should all hope for the best,” he said. “It is absolutely prudent to prepare for the worst.”
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