Geithner: U.S. Treasuries still safe after downgrade

WASHINGTON Sun Aug 7, 2011 7:42pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Treasury debt is as safe as it was before a Standard & Poor's rating downgrade of the United States and Congress' "damaging" debate over raising the country's debt limit, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said on Sunday.

Geithner, in an interview with NBC/CNBC television, also called on European leaders to ensure that there is an "unequivocal financial backstop" for euro zone governments facing fiscal and debt problems.

He added that a double-dip recession was unlikely if governments and central banks made good decisions.

Asked whether Treasuries were as safe now as they were last week, Geithner replied: "Absolutely. And the judgment by S&P changed nothing."

Geithner continued the Treasury's attack on the credit rating agency, which cut the U.S. sovereign rating late on Friday to AA-plus from AAA citing the political gridlock in Washington and a debt deal that produced less fiscal savings than the agency had prescribed.

"I mean I think S&P has shown really terrible judgment and they've handled themselves very poorly," Geithner said. "And they've shown a stunning lack of knowledge about basic U.S. fiscal budget math. And I think they drew exactly the wrong conclusion from this budget agreement."

Geithner said the S&P decision did not provide any new insight into the U.S. capacity to pay it bills.

"There is no risk the United States of America would ever not be in a position to meet its obligations," Geithner said.

He acknowledged, however, that the "terrible debate" in Congress over raising the debt limit, which brought the U.S. government within days of defaulting on some obligations, raised questions about the U.S. political system's effectiveness.

"It caused a lot of damage and that's going to take a long time to heal that damage," he said.

Geithner also said he was confident that China would continue to be strong investors in the United States, despite criticism from the Xinhua news agency that the "good old days" of U.S. borrowing were over.

DOUBLE-DIP UNLIKELY

The U.S. Treasury chief, who on Sunday confirmed his decision to stay in the job, said he did not believe a double-dip recession was likely for the global economy, but "it depends on the quality of judgments of the governments and central banks now."

The world's governments and central banks still have room to act to deal with global economic pressures, he added.

Europe must ensure stronger growth and governments there must make progress on fiscal reforms, he said, adding he was confident that Europe would provide "more forceful" support for countries under debt pressure, such as Italy and Spain.

"So what Europe needs to do is to make sure that there's an unequivocal financial backstop. So there is no doubt in anyone's mind that those countries across Europe have the ability and the will to meet their obligations," Geithner added.

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