WASHINGTON - A bill that aims to offer $40 billion in loan guarantees to boost the weakened Mexican peso also may serve to open Mexican financial markets to U.S. banks.
"There are provisions in the bill for further access to Mexican financial markets for nonMexican financial institutions," Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin said Wednesday.
Details about the provision were sketchy, as House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach has instructed his staff to remain silent concerning the contents of the legislation.
However, House Banking financial institutions subcommittee chairman Marge Roukema, R-N.J., questioned whether the loan guarantee was a "bailout" for "Wall Street big investment banks."
"If that were the issue, I'd have zero interest in this," Mr. Rubin said. "Today, this debt is held primarily by mutual funds and pension funds" invested in by "middle-income individuals."
Separately, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Ricki Tigert Helfer said the crisis in Mexico is not threatening domestic banks.
"I don't see a significant impact on the operations of U.S. banks," she said.
The plan, forwarded by the Clinton Administration, was created to restore investor confidence in the peso, which dropped in value dramatically on Dec. 20, 1994. Political events in Mexico contributed to declining foreign investor confidence and ultimately led to a severe slowing in private foreign investment.
"The government of Mexico has substantial short-term debt, and as it comes due, they have to refinance it in capital markets," Mr. Rubin said. The proposed loan guarantee would back loans needed to pay for the short- term debts.
Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan stressed the importance of the loan guarantee, especially because the effect of the peso devaluation may end up being felt well beyond the borders of Mexico.
"The objective of the proposed guarantee program is to halt the erosion in Mexico's financing capabilities before it has dramatic impact far beyond those already evident around the world," Mr. Greenspan said. "This program in my judgment is the least worst of the various initiatives which present themselves as possible solutions to a very unsettling international financial problem."
However, the plan met with some resistance from some lawmakers on the panel.
"How are you going to go in there and get those $40 billion back when there is real trouble?" said Rep. Toby Roth, R-Wis., referring to the risk of Mexico defaulting on loans. In that case, the United States consequently would have to back up the loans.