Banque de France sees no credit crunch in Europe


There is no credit crunch in Europe and the International Monetary Fund has been too pessimistic in its growth forecasts for the region, a senior Banque de France official said on Tuesday.


"Today in Europe there is no credit crunch," Jean-Pierre Landau, second deputy governor of Banque de France, told a European Parliament hearing on hedge funds and private equity.


Landau, speaking in a personal capacity, said the IMF growth forecasts for the euro zone and Europe were too pessimistic as they had taken into account risk from financial market turmoil.


"That should have been dealt with ... separately," Landau told the EU assembly's economic affairs committee.


The IMF has cut its estimate of euro zone 2008 economic growth, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters last week.


The IMF will say on April 9 that it now forecasts the economy of the countries using the euro to grow less than 1.3 per cent this year, down from a previous forecast of 1.8 per cent published in January, the source said.


Attempts through the use of securitisation to spread risk throughout the market in recent years have turned out less effective than thought and it has ended up concentrated in big banks, Landau said.


Landau said the current crisis should not lead to any final views on securitisation and the role of hedge funds as securitisation had been successfully used for decades.


Several EU lawmakers say hedge funds and private equity are too lightly regulated and may have contributed to the financial turmoil. Labour unions accuse private equity groups of sucking companies dry of capital.


Britain's top market watchdog said hedge fund supervision needed no big changes.


"Hedge funds are neither catalysts or drivers of current market turmoil," Dan Waters, director of retail policy at the UK Financial Services Authority, said.


"The indirect approach of supervision to hedge funds is the appropriate and cost effective one," Waters said.


Hedge funds are supervised indirectly through their prime brokers, the big investment banks that supply capital.


Hermes Equity Ownership Services, which operates a pension fund for UK telecoms group BT, said hedge funds were as much a victim as a perpetrator of the current market turmoil.


"If you regulate hedge funds you risk them going underground," Jennifer Walmsley, associate director of Hermes Equity, said.


Prime brokers were already changing their behaviour.


"We have seen significant tightening of the terms prime brokers now offer hedge funds. This is a robust reaction to managing their own risks," Waters of the FSA said.


"We see this behaviour as consistent to our efforts to mitigate risk as regards financial stability," he added.


The blame for the current market turmoil lay with the "astonishingly inadequate mortgage lending practices" in the United States, Waters said.


But Peter Rossman of the International Union of Food, Farm and Hotel Workers said the private equity "bubble" had been a source of disaster.


"Both the quantity and quality of jobs suffers under private equity," Rossman said. (Reuters)