Members of a Senate subcommittee clashed repeatedly yesterday with a senior administration official show told them that the growing dollar surpluses in oil producing countries pose no "imminent danger" to the world's financial system.
During a question and answer sesion that grew testy and heated on several occasions, Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) said the witness was "wugarcoating" the situation to make it seem less ominous than it was.
However, Under Secretary of the Treasury Anthony M. Solomon responded that he did not believe a collapse of the financial system was likely to result from the huge fuel bills and debts of countries abroad.
The hearing before the Senate's foreign economic policy subcommittee was called to consider a new $10 billion lending facility of the International Monetary Fund. The facility would loan money to countries whose deficiets and debts have pushed them beyond the poin where they can draw further credits from the IMF itself. Senate approval is necessary for the United States to participate in the new fund.
Church said yesterday that he would support the fund and praised Solomon for helping bring it about. But he said that, in his view, it was on, a "palliative" in the present situation.
Between 1971 and 1973, the deficits of all nations averaged $15 billion. But between 1974 and 1976, the years immediately after oil prices increased sharply, this debt totaled $225 billion for the three years. About three quarters of this debt was financed by loans from private banks, a development that has drawn commerical lending institutions deeply into the financial affairs of developing nations all over the world.
Although the United States also suffered from the higher oil prices, the staff of the subcommittee produced documents yesterday showing taht very substantial amounts of the new wealth of the oil nations flowed back into this country, while deficits of poorer countries were rising sharply.
Between 1974 and mid 1977, $26.6 billion flowed into the United States from the Middle East oil exporting countries, not including investments in real estate. Of that, $12.7 billion was in the form of foreign purchases of U.S. government bonds, bills, notes and securities.
A criticism of U.S. monetary policy since 1974 has been that it has aggressively promoted the recycling of oil dollars back to the United States regardless of the impact on other countries. In 1974, the government here broke with its usual practice of selling U.S. treasury bonds and notes only at public auction. It agreed to sell Saudi Arabia additional amounts of these directly, after the close of the auction.
Yesterday, Solomon denied the administration was promoting the Middle East investments here. He noted that the direct sales are now available to call central banks. He said that of the $92 billion is held by members of the oil producers cartel.
Eugene Sherman, vice president of Merrill Lynch Pierce, Fenner and Smith brokerage house of New York City, told the subcommittee that Middle East countries acquistions of Treasury bills and notes began increasing in the middle of 1976, apparently because the United States economy was becoming increasingly attractive. He said this was "good policy from the Treasury's point of view."