Wall Street Begs Washington to Act, Despite Fears of Aftershocks

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Wall Street’s top bankers are urging Washington to hurry up and expand federal spending, even as they acknowledge that doing so will add to a tab that will take decades to pay down.

Finance executives, who say their industry received a lopsided benefit from the first waves of government support, say that high unemployment will stunt growth -- and even create ripple effects into the financial system -- if Congress doesn’t do more to prop up the economy.

“The huge elephant in the room on the consumer side -- and it’s an elephant in the room on the commercial side as well -- is what happens to government stimulus,” Capital One Financial Corp. Chief Executive Officer Richard Fairbank said this week.

U.S. jobless claims rose last week for the first time since March. Wall Street is urging lawmakers to increase unemployment benefits and write additional one-time checks to Americans amid a concern that spending will slow, and that people will stop paying their home, auto and credit-card loans. That’s even as top bankers believe a growing budget deficit could weaken the country’s financial standing.

“The fact that the dollar is weakening against the euro, and precious metals are rallying, is a pretty clear signal that the country’s relative fiscal posture has been significantly compromised,” Jim Millstein, co-chairman of Guggenheim Securities, said in an email. He added that “financial repression” will have to last a long time to bring the U.S. budget back on a sustainable path.

Wall Street Begs Washington to Act, Despite Fears of Aftershocks

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer David Solomon also cited the risks of a weakening dollar, yet said that U.S. spending needs to increase.

“Even though it’s hard and it’s expensive, we are better to blunt the economic impact now in the short term, by spending more, than to allow it to get worse and deal with the consequences of it being worse,” he said Wednesday in an online presentation hosted by the Economic Club of New York.

Wall Street banks have earmarked more than $35 billion for potential loan losses. Mortgage delinquencies in the U.S. have doubled since a year ago, according to data from Black Knight Inc.

“If there is no extension of unemployment compensation benefits, I think we will see consequences for consumer spending,” Bill Dudley, former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said Thursday in a Bloomberg Television interview.

There’s also a mounting concern about the bifurcation of fortunes. Banks’ capital-markets divisions have benefited from a surged in stock and bond underwriting, propped up by Federal Reserve policy. The first wave of support by the Fed has “had a much greater effect on the wealth of the wealthy than it had on the well-being of those in need,” said Ralph Schlosstein, co-CEO of Evercore Inc.

“That’s, I think, a really, really important issue,” Schlosstein said Thursday in a Bloomberg Television interview. “I’m a conservative on fiscal policy, but I do believe we need to do more for those who are under-served in terms of income, health care, housing in this country.”

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