Carter sheds light on the economy

Affirming that the stimulus package has helped the economy stabilize somewhat as 2009 comes to a close, Marshall Carter told members of the Y's Men Thursday that there also needs to be more accountability for the federal money that has been distributed.

Carter, chairman of the New York Stock Exchange Group and deputy chairman of the parent company NYSE Euronext, shared his views about this year's financial debacle during his talk, "The Economy: What Went Wrong and What We Should Do About It."

"The TARP money had no hooks in it," he explained to 240 members and their guests gathered in the auditorium at Saugatuck Congregational Church. "I think a Management 101 class would tell you, `If I'm going to give you billions of dollars, I'd like to see you every Thurday at 9 a.m. to discuss how you are spending it.' "

Americans are undoubtedly observing one of the largest financial reorganizations in structure and regulation since the Great Depression. Carter cited several reasons for the slow recovery from this year's economic collapse. Although recent reports reveal slight increases in the job and real estate markets, the rate of foreclosures continues to escalate.

Carter also observed that many Americans have curtailed their spending -- news that send stocks spiraling downward on Friday following Thursday's rally.

"Consumers seem to finally have recognized the difference between their `needs' and their `wants,' " Carter quipped.

This obviously affects retailers' bottom line and large, discount stores, such as Walmart and Target, saw "less than robust" back-to-school sales. Forecasts are likewise grim for holiday spending.

With a wry sense of humor, Carter demonstrated a clear grasp of the turbulent economy's impact on individuals, families and global finances. Offering credit cards and loans to families who could not realistically afford the debt is one of the many factors contributing to this past year's economic collapse, he noted.

Carter said that although a "national objective of home ownership" had been encouraged for some time, he noted that "some families simply couldn't afford that level of debt."

However, Carter also called for more mediation efforts offered to those facing foreclosures, stating that bankers could be re-trained to help people figure out how they could pay their bills so that they would not lose their homes. "All it takes is a little addition, subtraction and maybe some long division," he said.

To that end, Carter said he would also like to see banks abolish exorbitant fees currently charged for late payments and overdrafts.

At the federal level, Carter spoke about the need for "systematic oversight regulations" so that this year's fiancial situation is not repeated. While noting that officials in Washington agree that regulations need to be installed, there is a debate going on about who the regulators should be. There is discussion on the table of creating a system akin to the European college of regulators, he added.

Referring to Bernard Madoff's unscrupulous actions, Carter said, "The SEC didn't pick up the red flags that were obviously up."

He also explained to a stunned audience that the computer used to print Madoff's monthly reports was not connected to any other database for regulatory purposes. (The media reported that in a jailhouse interview last week, Madoff also expressed disbelief that the "young investigators" sent in to monitor him did not detect his elaborate Ponzi scheme.)

Acknowledging that although the lack of regulations were blamed for Madoff's outrageous behavior, Carter emphasized that "there needs to be a philosophy of ethical behavior."

He said, "The SEC needs to hire some grey-haired men and women who have spent the past 30 years on Wall Street."

During the question-and-answer part of the presentation, someone asked Carter's opinion about the government bailing out companies such as General Motors.

Carter replied that although he agreed with President Barack Obama's decision, he said the president should have gone further by ordering a fleet of energy efficient cars for the federal government. Carter was, once again, referring to the need for follow-up regarding the ways in which companies were using the federal funds received via the stimulus package.

A few of the Y's men also posed questions about the affect of overseas manufacturing on the economy. One told Carter that "until we bring back a manufacturing base to the blue-collar worker, I don't see how we're going to get out of this."

Another audience member echoed this concern, stating, "I don't see how our economy could improve if people are buying from outside of the United States."

In agreement, Carter said that the answer lies in increasing import taxes and building credits.

Y's member Mario Sa'Couto enjoyed listening to Carter's talk.

"He has a tremendous amount of experience, not only in the West but throughout Europe," he said. "He was very up to date on the actions that need to be taken."

Sa'Couto added that he agreed with Carter's assessment about the need for more "hooks," or follow up regarding the monies distributed by the federal stimulus plan.

Sa'Couto said, "We need to have more control over the results of the actions that have been taken."