Citigroup Inc. Chief Executive Vikram Pandit said the United States economy is unlikely to slip into a double-dip recession but that sustained economic growth remains a global challenge.

Credit is unlikely to grow faster than gross domestic product, Pandit said Monday at the Global Financial Forum sponsored by Chatham House, BritishAmerican Business and the Foreign Policy Association at Citi's lower Manhattan investment banking headquarters.

Citi was among the banking companies hit earliest and hardest by the financial crisis caused by the implosion of the United States mortgage market.

It had gotten stuck with bad mortgages and other loans it had planned to package into securities and derivatives and sell to other investors. In late 2008, it came near collapse, and the Treasury Department still owns a large stake in Citi's stock.

The company is recovering, having posted a $4.4 billion first-quarter profit. "I feel a lot better than I did a year ago," Pandit told shareholders during the bank's annual meeting last week.

On Monday, he said the U.S. entered this crisis after an era of strong growth but significant global imbalances in savings and consumption.

"It is hard to imagine a sustainable growth model that doesn't address these imbalances," Pandit said.

The healing economy, and more globalization, will lead to bigger global capital and trade flows, he said.

But emerging markets will be unable to create sufficient growth to fuel the developed world while the latter focuses on increasing savings.

"There is a model here in the U.S." to generate growth, and "it remains a viable model:" fostering entrepreneurship, private capital and public-private partnerships. The U.S. must "harness globalization not just for big companies," Pandit said.

The CEO said the U.S. needs a plan in place to cut the deficit — which he called the lesson the world could learn from the problems in Greece.

In the U.S., however, close to zero percent interest rates are "appropriate" to generate growth and to deal with the excess capacity of the U.S. economy. He warned about taking away government stimulus programs too early.

"If I'd look at this economy, I'd rather be a little too late than too early," he said. But government should "use the time of low interest rates to get the deficit under control."

A focus on education, embracing globalization, more efficient use of energy and clean energy and public-private infrastructure investments are preconditions for economic growth, he said. "Open the door to the world's best talent, and keep it open," he urged.

In addition, regulatory reform of financial services can create confidence in the markets and trust in the financial system, Pandit said.

"Nobody is more for financial reform than Citi," he said.

He previously said he supports more consumer protection and a clearing process for the derivatives business, as well as anti-cyclical capital standards and regulatory power to "resolve" big banks in trouble.

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