The Reagan administration, the Federal Reserve Board and the nation's major banks are considering forming an international superbank to handle lending to cash-starved developing countries.
The superbank idea, part of a major initiative introduced this week by U.S. officials to handle the Third World debt crisis, is seen as a way to help get money faster to Third World debtors and to make it easier for debtor countries and their western lenders to negotiate new loan agreements, Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III said yesterday.
The superbank is the brainchild of Fed Chairman Paul A. Volcker, said Baker who had just returned from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund annual meeting in Seoul.
Volcker has been frequently mentioned as a contender for the job of head of the World Bank when its president, A. W. (Tom) Clausen, retires next year. However, an administration source said yesterday that it is unlikely Volcker will get the job. The official would not say whether Volcker had rejected the job or whether it would not be offered to him by the administration.
Last week, financial markets temporarily collapsed on the false rumor that Volcker planned to resign from the Fed.
Baker said yesterday that the commercial banks have been discussing the possibility of putting new money for lending to debtor nations into a separate entity that would deal with the debtor countries, the IMF and the World Bank in devising new lending and criteria for granting new loans.
The superbank would eliminate the current system in which private lending is controlled by syndicates of international banks, each of which must approve any new lending or renegotiation of debt.
Officers from one or two of the major lenders would head the consortium, which would be subject to regulatory approval by banking agencies. The major appeal of the superbank would be that it would make management of the debt easier, Baker said.
The problem has been that "you need so many banks to say yes before anyone in the syndicate will say go," Baker said.
One possibility is that all of the lenders would contribute a certain amount of money and receive voting power commensurate with their contributions, the Treasury Secretary said. Details of the plan have not yet been fleshed out, he said.
Earlier this week, Baker unveiled a shift in Reagan administration strategy for dealing with the Third World debt crisis, calling for stronger emphasis on economic growth in Third World countries, pressure for commercial banks to boost their lending by about $20 billion over the next three years and about $9 billion in additional lending in the next three years by the World Bank and other multinational lending organizations.
The administration also initiated another shift in strategy last month, pushing down the dollar to help increase exports and reduce imports and to help forestall protectionist legislation that could damage the debtor nations more than a decline in the value of the dollar.
Until about a month ago, the Reagan administration had appeared to do little to ease long-term problems of Third World debtors. A senior administration official said that the shift in international trade policies was called for because of the surge of protectionism in Congress that threatened to cut off exports of these countries, which they need to earn money to pay their debts.
Additionally, U.S. banks holding debt of Third World borrowers had asked Baker to take a lead role in helping solve the debt problem, and the debtor countries themselves were suffering severe strains in trying to pay off loans to the banks and keep their domestic economies in order at the same time, the official said.
One of the more important turn of events was when Volcker, Baker and Secretary of State George P. Shultz recognized that there was a problem and decided something had to be done about it, the official said.
Baker also heard complaints from leaders of Latin American countries during his visit to the inauguration of Peru's president, Alan Garcia. Garcia announced in his inaugural address that Peru would renegotiate its debt only with the commercial banks, ignoring the IMF, which sets austerity plans to get domestic economies in order. Peru also said it would only pay off part of its debt.
It was the discussions with the leaders that impressed Baker that something had to be done, the official said. The official added that Peru's actions were "stupid" and that it is unlikely any commercial banks will lend Peru funds without Peru first conforming to IMF austerity plans.
Baker, Volcker and the finance ministers and central bankers of Britain, France, West Germany and Japan last month announced in New York that they will coordinate efforts to push down the dollar. The official said that the administration feels the announcement so far "has had a reasonable effect and we are going to continue to work toward a convergence toward the underlying economic policies of the five countries."
The dollar plunged during the first week following the announcement, but has firmed somewhat since then.