WHEN: WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2011 AT 8:30AM ET
WHERE: CNBC'S "SQUAWK BOX"
Following is the unofficial transcript of an EXCLUSIVE interview with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner live from the CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha conference in New York City on Wednesday, September 14th at 8:30am ET.
All references must be sourced to CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha conference.
JIM CRAMER: All right. Let's not waste any time.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: I think that was unfair to you, by the way. I think you have kind of a zen, calm capacity.
JIM CRAMER: Well, you're clearly watching this show then, clearly.
All right. Three years ago to the day you heard Tyler Mathisen say we thought we were past all this. You also had integrated a TARP program that in retrospect was incredibly successful. You put through a stress test that many of us were, let's say, critical of initially. Turned out to be a huge success. Why are we back again in the same problem? Why haven't they used their blueprint to solve it?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: You know, if you think about the basic lessons of financial crisis, it takes a certain number of things to solve them definitively. First of all, you have to have a clear, unequivocal, unified commitment to do whatever it takes to solve it. You have to be open and honest and transparent about the scale of the challenge, make sure that investors around the world have the capacity to make judgments, to differentiate across institutions. And having incentive to provide the funding you need for economies that function, and you have to use overwhelming force.
And what we ultimately did -- the U.S. of course was behind the curve early too. But what we ultimately did is put politics aside, and you had an incoming President, outgoing President from vastly different traditions of the American political system stand together, and you had a Central Bank and a finance ministry working closely together to do whatever was necessary. And it was that combination of action that ultimately was decisive for us. Although as a country, the reason it is a remarkable success in the early stage of the financial rescue, we had a lot of challenges ahead, very difficult challenges ahead, and we're still living with the scars of that crisis.
JIM CRAMER: I mean, what inning are we in versus what inning are they in?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: I think let me just start with the U.S. Obviously we had weaker growth than we thought, weaker growth than we hoped. Why is that? It's the combination of three things: You have an economy that's still hearing bringing down debt, working through big amounts of the public crisis. That necessarily leaves growth weaker than you would like, more vulnerable than you would like. And you've got a bunch of very substantial adverse shocks: High oil prices, catastrophe in Japan, the trauma in Europe, combined with ongoing fiscal drag in government, and that weakened growth quite substantially.
And you've had this terribly damaging political dysfunction here and in Europe that leaves the world wondering whether the political system has the capacity to do the right thing. And that is very damaging to confidence. It's been devastating to confidence in the United States, and it magnifies all the challenges.
Ultimately what you have to do is you have to put the economy ahead of politics, and you have to put the imperatives in growth -- not just immediate growth, but long-term growth fundamentals -- ahead of political considerations and all of the other objectives we face as a country, and that's what we're trying to do.
JIM CRAMER: Is this what you're going to say to them. You are going back a second time, which worries me. Our viewers are very fearful. You're going back to Europe. You're going to speak one on one with the major ministers. Are you going to tell them that they have to understand there must be political growth; they must put fire power together; that what you've heard so far is not enough to get us out of this crisis?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Jim, they may invited me to come. I thought it would be polite to accept that. Obviously, they're going to want to talk about the United States, but they're going to want to talk about Europe too. And we have a huge interest as a country in them solving this.
Now a few things about Europe, because that's obviously such a dominant concern now. What they're doing is very challenging. They're trying to figure out how to build the architecture of a more complete fiscal, financial, monetary union. They're trying to help countries in terrible crisis implement a set of reforms that can allow them to get the fixes for problems that took them decades to build up, and they have a terrible growth problem, and they're trying to solve all those problems at once.
And I think it's important that you saw the Chancellor of Germany say yesterday, Angela Merkel said yesterday, they are absolutely committed and they have the financial capacity, the economic capacity to do what it takes to hold this thing together. I think they recognize that they're going to have to do more. They recognize they've been behind the curve. They recognize they're going to take more force behind their commitments to make sure that Italy and Spain can fund sustainable interest rates; that the countries undertaking these reforms in Greece and Ireland and Portugal have the financial support they need; and most importantly, that they make it clear -- and of course they have the capacity to do this -- that they will stand behind their financial system so that their system can fund and therefore finance recovery in those cases. And those are the three things you have to do.
I think they recognize how severe the constraints, the challenges, are right now, and I think they recognize that they're going to have to do more to earn the confidence of the world, that they have the political will to do this.
JIM CRAMER: Two banks last night needed more than $500 million in -- U.S. dollars -- in order to be able to meet funding needs. Now I know the European markets are up, so I have to believe that there is some sense that this is not a problem.
Do they have a plan for Dominoes? Do they have a Citigroup plan? Do they have a Washington Mutual shotgun plan? Do they have an AIG plan, and do they have a -- must never have a Lehman plan?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Well, think about Europe. I mean, Europe has a tradition of much more indulgence, support for their institutions. They are much closer to ours, to their government. In just one man's view. There is no chance that the major countries of Europe will let their institutions be at risk in the eyes of the market. There is not a chance.
JIM CRAMER: Take off the table Lehman?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Of course not, there's no chance of that. I remember the Chancellor of Germany saying in front of the United States, repeatedly, in private meetings but she said this in public. She said: We are not going to have a Lehman Brothers. We're not going to do it.
Obviously, I think she recognizes they've got to do some work and make sure they make that commitment credible to the world.
JIM CRAMER: What are the exposures here? We hear about our money funds. Viewers call me to say: Listen, we're very worried that our money funds are in jeopardy. Because of investments they've made in French banks. Derivatives. Do we really know, even after Dodd-Frank, what our derivative exposure is to our banks? Borrowed money against subprime debt. Did anyone here do that, and do we even have the ability to know what our banks are doing over in Europe?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: I think it's important to think about this as overwhelmingly a European challenge. Now it matters to us because it adds to lack of confidence, concerns about risk. It makes everybody more tentative.
You know, think about us. We just went through this terribly damaging debate about default in the United States. Elected leaders of the United States were talking openly about the merits of default, threatening default, saying it might be a desirable path for the country to go through.
When you ask people to contemplate the unthinkable like that, it makes them more scared, more tentative. And so Europe matters to us mostly because it adds to a caution around the world at a time when things are still -- we're still healing from the crisis.
But our financial system is in a -- because of the actions we took early in the crisis -- is in a much stronger position to deal with these new risks than it was before this crisis. Much, much stronger position. Way ahead of the rest of the world in terms of making sure they have a stronger financial foundation to handle any type of shock.
Still, we have a big interest as a country in helping Europe get through this, and we're going to do everything we can to help them, make it easier for them and support them.
JIM CRAMER: Could their banks pass your stress test?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: I think that's a question you should ask the broader investor community. What we tried to do in the United States was lay out enough detailed information with a very tough bit of assumptions so the world could make their own judgment. The world could decide were our assumptions tough enough or not? And you could make your judgment.
And that's ultimately what turned things here in the United States. That combined with the fact that we forced people to go raise enough capital to cover those losses.
JIM CRAMER: Journal today: Emerging giants look at Europe aid.
Do we need concentrated worldwide aid to help Europe, including U.S. money, money from Brazil, money from China? Is that on the agenda?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Well, obviously, this is a big enough thing to matter for the rest of the world, and the rest of the world has a big stake in helping Europe through this. And you've seen us support really exceptionally poor selection by the INF, well beyond what they've ever done for us, for other countries around the world, and that's a reflection of our stake.
And of course the Federal Reserve appropriately is willing to be as supportive as possible in helping the ECB and the international central banks meet the dollar funding needs of those countries.
And again, as I said, we have a big interest in helping them through this, but this is their challenge, and they have the economic and the financial capacity to meet this challenge. The people who are concerned that this is beyond their grasp are mistaken. The size of the challenges they face financially, economically are completely within the capacity of the stronger European members to manage.
JIM CRAMER: That's great. I've got to tell you, that's great. Because people in this room and people at home are petrified that's not the case, so that's terrific. I'm taking that off the table.
Now let's talk about the fact that you said the economy is weak. You put out a jobs plan. The New York Times today basically gives us a bitch word: Tax plan for jobs bill, familiar ring. Meaning the GOP will not back this. Is this dead on arrival?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Absolutely not. And I think that there's no reason now for the Congress of the United States not to act to help strengthen growth in the near term. It's the conservative, prudent, responsible thing to do. You can think of it as protection against Europe. You can think of it as insurance against weaker growth going forward, and you've got to think about the alternatives.
If Congress, Washington is incapable of acting, then policy will be damaging growth. Because what you'll have is a deeper, steeper contraction in fiscal support than is prudent for an economy at this early stage of the crisis, given the shocks we face at all.
So life is about choices, life is about alternatives. And what we've done is put together -- the President's put together a package which we think has a very powerful mix of tax incentives and investment that would be good for job creation and the economy right now, and we're proposing to make sure -- ways to make sure it doesn't have the long-term deficits.
And people will have different views about what's good for growth, and I haven't heard them, but if people got a better idea of sustaining growth in the short term, of course we'd be open to that. I haven't heard it yet.
JIM CRAMER: All right.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: And if they've got a better idea for paying for this over ten years, it's not going to damage long-term growth, other things that matter to us as a country, then we would be open to that, too.
JIM CRAMER: National energy policy. We've got perhaps 200 years' worth of natural gas in this country. We know the states that have great employment that actually are looking for workers. I was out in North Dakota a couple weeks ago. They are looking for workers. Why not get behind a plan, a bridge plan, to be able to put together maybe a package to put 2 million people to work, to make this country energy independent, with the possibility of cleaner skies and make it right here, right now. Because that's working. Instead of trying to cut the allowances that you're doing for oil and gas, let's cut back the one industry that's putting people to work in this country.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: I don't think there's much risk of that, and there may be merit in your thing, too. We're open to anything.
The basic imperative that people in Washington face today, and this is the basic lesson of the financial crisis, is you have to keep at it. You have to keep at it. You say that we're going to continue to do whatever we think will help get more people back to work, make the economy strong in the short term until we get definitively through this.
And our basic strategy is to make sure we're healing the damage caused by this crisis. And we've got some ways to go, as you know, despite the improvement in the financial sector. And we want to make sure at the same time we're making this a better place to invest, making exports stronger and strengthen our long-term fundamentals. And that requires us to make some tough choices by the long-term.
JIM CRAMER: But you've been saying to people both in private and then publicly in these interviews you've been giving, Listen, don't overweight inflation. I think that Trichet is overweighing inflation.
Here in, though, some of this plan, you would be doing a deduction that would make it so the housing crisis could be worse because of the mortgage problem.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: I don't think it's quite fair. But let me -- the change you're referring to is the following:
We've proposed, as one way to pay for what the economy needs now, is that over ten years we start to limit some of the deductions that Americans enjoy, some of the no doubt hardest working but most fortunate Americans enjoy.
Now, why is that good policy? You have to look at alternatives again. Our judgment is -- and people can disagree about it, but our judgment is that mix of modest changes to the generosity of deductions for a small fraction of Americans has the least risk to growth, least risk to recovery, least damage to our economy and investment we face going forward.
Now, this is not perfect science and some people may disagree. That's our judgment. That's why I say, if people have a better way over time to make sure that as we invest in things that matter now, we're not adding to our long-term deficit, we would be open to that. But we think this is a pretty good mix.
JIM CRAMER: Carried interest. Is this is really an important issue?
Why are these people who are making billions being paid in capital gains when the rest of us are being paid in ordinary income?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Again, nobody likes to see taxes change, their taxes go up. And there are no options on the table that are going to be attractive to everybody on the tax front. We have to make judgments about how we live within our means as a country, how we do it -- so in a way that's more fair over time.
And as part of that, as I said, we think it makes sense to make modest changes in the current tax benefits that go to a relatively small fraction of Americans.
Now if you don't do that, you have to do one of three things. You have to decide you're going to borrow the money to sustain those. We can't do that. You have to decide you're going to raise somebody else's taxes. You're going to raise taxes on 98 percent of other working Americans. That's a hard thing to justify doing, given the pressures they're under. Or you have to decide you're going to try and cut more deeply into basic benefits that middle class Americans can depend on.
And although we think there's a lot of tough things we're going to have to do on healthcare, healthcare benefits, other broad functions of government, there are limits to do what we can do, though, without being fundamentally unfair or without undermining core things this government needs to do to make sure we grow in the future.
So we're trying to make those choices and we're going to have a good debate about those choices, and I think it's a debate the country has to have.
JIM CRAMER: Okay. Now, mad money. Why not? Lightning round. Let's do one. Come on, you're a frequent caller to lightning round. I've taken your calls.
You just mentioned it's not positive to borrow. I want to ask you point blank, look, why not do a 10-year? 10-year gigantic, $200 billion, lock down that financing, make sure that we have no liquidity problems ever like Europe. You told me it was --
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Yes, yes. We're following your advice. We are doing the prudent economic thing right now, which is we're borrowing roughly 2 percent for 10-year money. It makes sense for us to invest now as long as we do so in a way that doesn't add to our long-term deficit.
JIM CRAMER: 1 to 200 billion, something bold, or how about --
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Just so you know, the package is $450 billion spread over 18 months to 2 years. It is a very substantial package, range of economists that will add 1 or 2 percentage points to the GDP growth. I think that's realistic. Depends what Congress ultimately does. But yes.
JIM CRAMER: Okay. Different from what you told me a year ago.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: What you're saying is good economics and it makes sense now again, because given the economy is still healing from crisis, a bunch of things happened to us that cause growth to be weaker. Lot of self-inflicted damage to confidence caused by the debt crisis. The responsible thing for government to do now is find ways to help growth in the near term.
JIM CRAMER: Okay. Take advantage in low rates. Make people refinance. Fannie and Freddie. On 60 percent of the homes.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Yes.
JIM CRAMER: How are you going to do it? I'll take yes for an answer on this one.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Right now we have -- you know, rates came down a lot, mortgage rates came down in part because of a range of things we did and the Fed did. That's good policy, tried to help protect the economy from the risk you have, further avoidable pressure on housing prices across the country.
But for that to have its maximum effect you want people to be able to refinance. There's a range of things that people in this room know very well that get in the way of that. We're trying to reduce those frictions. Those lie within the authority of FHFA, but they, as you've heard them say, are very open to trying to fix those constraints so that you can see a substantial additional number of Americans, even people who under water now, refinance and take advantage of lower rates.
JIM CRAMER: Okay. Oil prices. You mentioned it was a principal impediment to be able to get some growth here. Oil is too high versus the slowing of economies. Is it possible that we could have an investigation to find out whether oil is being cartelled by hedge funds? Is it possible that below margin rates are making it so that oil is being hoarded, and that's why it's too high?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: My own view of this is that oil is fundamentally driven by fundamentals; that there are periods when financial activity can amplify what is happening in oil prices. But I think mostly it's been fundamental driven, and you've seen them come back quite a ways from the peaks earlier in the year, and I think that will be helpful, because that will sort of ease the pressures.
JIM CRAMER: But what effects this much more than --
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Well --
JIM CRAMER: Americans pay off of-- Is that wrong?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: I think anyway I'll say it this way. Prices have come down now to the point where they're much less likely to be a constraint on growth and much less likely to force -- well, let's say constrain the activities of central banks around the world.
JIM CRAMER: Should we outlaw credit default on things that we do not own?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Absolutely not.
JIM CRAMER: Why?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Because I think -- you know, a lot of debate about this, of course, a lot of ambivalence and fear about it. But what you don't want to do is get in the way of the market's ability to hedge against risk. If you do that, you'll have people take less risk. That's bad for growth, bad for investment, bad for economic activity. Now that comes with risk, of course, and comes with challenges to the system like we saw. But the best way to deal with those challenges are to make sure the system has enough capital against risk. So the guys that are writing the protection hold enough capital against the commitments they make.
If you do that, you can successfully mitigate all the concerns people have about -- not all, but most the concerns people have about all types of innovative financial instruments.
JIM CRAMER: Speak to many CEOs on my show. They all have billions of dollars overseas. They want to bring it back, they want to create jobs, they want incentives. Would you pledge to change the repatriation tax laws and get that money back in?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: In the context of comprehensive tax reform, corporate tax reform, it lowers the statutory rate and broadens the base, which the President of the United States is committed to do, and we will -- you'll see us propose ways to strengthen incentives to bring that money back.
But we're not going to do that, repatriation outside of corporate tax reform, because for the simple reason that it costs a lot of money. It costs between 20 and 80 billion dollars to do that over 10 years, and if you're going to do that, you have to be able to pay for it, and how are you going to raise taxes on the 96 percent of companies across the country that don't benefit from repatriation? How do you make it fair to them to raise their taxes to pay for that?
So in the context of corporate tax reform, we can do a lot of things, including this, to help improve the incentives for investing in this country.
Remember, the long-term growth prospects of the United States depend overwhelmingly on one thing, which is making sure that we improve the incentives to build and create more things in this country and export them to meet the huge demand you're going to see over the next decades from China, India, Brazil, all those countries around the world.
And we are in a much better position than all the other major economies to benefit from that long boom in emerging markets, much better position, much more diversified strength across things that those countries need. And what we want to do is to make sure that tax policy, regulatory policy, education, infrastructure all work together to reinforce a strategy that makes it more compelling to invest and build and create things in this country to meet that growing demand.
JIM CRAMER: If you were on the Super Committee, would you say, Listen, let's just go with Simpson-Bowles; it makes sense; it's been dropped; it's time?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: I think the best models out there for a long-term fiscal reform look like Simpson-Bowles; they look like what the President laid out in April; they look like what the gang of six laid out a few weeks -- a few months ago, and you'll see the President propose on Monday a very detailed, comprehensive and balanced set of reforms on long-term spending across the government and tax reforms that will contribute to debt reduction, but do so in a way we think is fair.
So I think all the credible models for fiscal reform lie in that universe of proposals.
JIM CRAMER: Okay. Trade deals. It looks like the American people --
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: -- before them.
JIM CRAMER: Whoa. I want to actually make it so they have to buy our cars, they have to buy our stuff. We buy everything that they build. Why don't they have to buy our stuff?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: That's why we should do it. If we don't do trade agreements with countries like Korea, for example, what happens? Other countries come and take market share away from U.S. companies.
If we sit there and do nothing, we lose market share, opportunities for American companies for stuff to build here are disadvantaged or eroded over time. And we believe -- of course, we felt this early in the summer, too, but I think we're more confident now, that we have Republican and Democratic agreement for a strategy to get these three bills passed: Korea, Colombia and Panama. Those are important on their own, because they're good agreements on your test. But more important than that, they give us a chance to negotiate with the rest of the world and try and do things having better bang for the buck for American companies. And that's because when we demonstrate we can legislate agreements, then countries around the world will have an incentive to negotiate with us. Until we demonstrate we can legislate them, they have no incentive to negotiate. We're trying to change that.
JIM CRAMER: Three years from now, Europe? Alive? Dead? Meaningful?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Absolutely alive.
JIM CRAMER: Absolutely alive?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Yeah. Again, it's not my judgment to make. Listen to the Europeans. They committed a generation of political capital to building that institution of Europe. Now it's incomplete on the financial system, on fiscal budget policy, as you've seen they did not build that mechanism, but they're doing it now. And they're moving -- I know it feels a little slower than the markets are moving, and they've got to move more quickly. But they have done, in just 18 months, a lot to compensate for those gaps in the initial framework. They have some ways to go, but they're moving, too. I think they've commitment to do it. They're all in. They're going to have to do whatever it takes.
JIM CRAMER: Greece. Must it be saved, and must the Germans do it?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Well, again, to stall the financial crisis, you need reforms that fix your financial system, in their case shrink their government, make growth better over time. It takes time and it does not work unless you it's supported with money. There's no way it works. You can't expect anything to happen without giving them the capacity, the breathing space to be able to borrow.
JIM CRAMER: Finally, on Friday, 9/11, we had a memorial at the Stock Exchange. Paul O'Neill was there, Treasury Secretary. Treasury Secretary told me: You know why we don't have any real change in this country? Because when you speak your mind, as I did as treasury secretary, and say, You know what? We've got to pay for all that we're doing. Eventually we have to have tax increases. Boom, you're fired.
And that's why nothing changes. People are afraid of getting fired. Are you afraid of getting fired?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: I've been hoping ...
But I'll tell you one thing. As you said at the beginning, you're gracious at the beginning, I've never done anything else. I've spent my life in public service, mostly in the financial side, and I have never been in the position where I had to say something I didn't believe and was not given the chance to fight for what I thought was right.
And I completely agree, that I think the test of holding public office is a willingness to be open about the challenges and to be fair and clear and candid and direct about the kind of things you have to do. I've always tried -- I'm not perfect. But I've always tried to do that.
JIM CRAMER: But you are someone who has never believed in a-- government. You are someone who has a long history of being, at least when it comes to banks, saying you cannot lend more than what you have.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: I am a fiscal hawk and a big hawk on capital -- bank capital, and I believe everything we've tried to do to put out this financial fire and start to build a better foundation for the long-term is consistent with that.
Remember, to put out a financial fire, you have to do things you would never want to do in normal times. You have to do exceptional things, really difficult things, things people hate. But there's no alternative.
You're seeing a natural experiment in the alternative now. How does that look? How does that feel? And ultimately -- and this is the paradox if you think about policy and the crisis -- is the stuff you have to do to make long-term fiscal deficits more healthy requires spending money now. There's no alternative.
If we'd sat there in that crisis in the fall of '08 and early '09 and did nothing, debated what was cool and optimal, but the President not willing to take enormous political risk, then you would have done terrible damage. Not just for the economy and the fabric of business across the country, but you'd have done terrible damage to our long-term fiscal position.
So I'm very comfortable that if you're a fiscal conservative, you are a fiscal hawk, you understand how long-term debts are unsustainable, you have to be willing, right now, to make sure you're doing stuff that helps heal the economy as we recover.
JIM CRAMER: All right. Last lightning round question: If you do not get your jobs program passed, does it increase and increase dramatically the chances of a recession in 2012?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: If we do not pass a package this large and this powerful, than economic growth in the United States will be weaker. No doubt about it.
JIM CRAMER: But does that mean a recession? Is a recession in your realm of odds? Do you tell the President: Look, we are this close to recession; we must get this done?
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Let me say it a little more carefully. If you look at the average of private economists and then think about the outlet for growth in the United States for the next 18 months or so, I think they're largely in the 2 percent range now. 2 percent is just below potential growth in the United States.
Growth should be stronger for an economy coming out. You can't beat 5 percent, but it should be stronger than that. And what this package will do is not just buy some protection from the trauma you see in the other parts of the world, not just buy some insurance against the risks that other things could happen, and we can grow it, but it will make the economy strong in the near term. And that's good prudent policy now as long as you combine it with things that make sure the long-term is better.
JIM CRAMER: But there are people committed in Washington to stopping your plan, saying it is going to tax the job creators, and they want this thing dead before it gets started.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Again, you have to look at the merits of these things. This package is a mix of tax changes that have had broad-based support across the American political system, not just for years, but for weeks and months. And it has a commitment, to make sure as we do those things, they don't add to larger deficits.
Now, can we have a better mix, if they have a better mix for growth, then we should look at it. Haven't seen it. And if they've got a better way to pay for the long-term stuff, we would be open to that, too.
But the test of governing should be, what's your plan? What's your strategy? And most of the alternatives we hear today are political strategy, not a growth strategy. Most of the alternatives we hear today are about magical thinking about -- well, I won't say it, but the test should be what's going to be good for growth.
JIM CRAMER: Okay. Mr. Treasury Secretary, thank you for your candor and thank you for pressing and telling us no more Lehman.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
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