updated 4/18/2005 2:44:19 PM ET 2005-04-18T18:44:19

The world’s most exclusive financial club sought to project an air of confidence on the heels of unsettling economic developments — a stomach-churning drop on Wall Street and gyrating global energy prices.

But Treasury Secretary John Snow, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and their colleagues may find it takes more than words to lower the risks to the world economy.

Oil prices are expected to remain high — and volatile — given tight supplies and rising demand, especially in rapidly developing countries like China.

Finance officials from the world’s seven richest countries on Saturday signaled their resolve to deal with the energy situation and reassure financial markets that they are on top of the matter.

“Higher oil prices are a headwind” the finance officials acknowledged in a joint statement. However, they urged producers to increase energy supplies and said countries should conserve more.

The Group of Seven countries endorsed more timely and accurate information about the oil market, which officials said could help control price fluctuations and make companies more willing to expand production.

The United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada make up the group.

The private talks a few blocks from the White House followed Wall Street’s worst session in nearly two years. The Dow Jones industrials plunged 191 points on Friday as investors worried about high oil prices and the strength of U.S. economic activity.

In addition to the G-7 discussions, the 184-nation International Monetary Fund and World Bank were holding meetings this weekend.

At a news conference wrapping up the IMF’s policy-setting committee, British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown said concerns about surging oil prices also figured prominently in their discussions.

The IMF panel concluded that efforts need to be made to boost supplies, including greater use of alternative energy sources. “We recognize that the volatility of oil prices and particularly the high level in recent months could have a damaging effect on growth,” Brown said. “We do believe there are measures that can be taken to make for a more efficient oil market.”

IMF members were to hear from U.N. Secretary-G eneral Kofi Annan on the need for rich countries to give more aid to poor nations. That approach fits into Annan’s efforts to overhaul U.N. operations.

Under tight security, several hundred people pressed for greater debt relief for impoverished countries and voiced opposition to the selection of Paul Wolfowitz, deputy defense secretary and an architect of the Iraq war, to run the World Bank. He starts on June 1.

The G-7 statement endorsed the goal of fully canceling debt for such countries. But officials have yet to resolve differences between competing plans from the United States and Britain.

“Once more the G-7 have chosen delay,” lamented Jonathan Hepburn, policy adviser for Oxfam International, a supporter of expanded debt relief.

The Bush administration also used the G-7 meeting as an opportunity to pressure China to overhaul its currency system. The finance officials advocated “flexibility in exchange rates” — the phrase they have used before to prod China.

The United States wants China to stop directly linking the yuan to the dollar. Treasury Secretary John Snow said it was now time to act. “The next step is to do it,” he said, rejecting claims by Beijing that it is not ready for the switch.

The administration has come under fire from members of Congress and U.S. manufacturers to take a tough line against China. Critics contend China’s currency system hurts U.S. exports and has contributed to the loss of millions of jobs in American factories.

France’s finance minister, Thierry Breton, said that in the G-7 group’s discussion, “it was clear that the yuan is undervalued and there was a consensus that China has to address this.”

Chinese finance officials accepted invitations to attend the two previous G-7 meetings. But they skipped this session, an apparent signal they did not want to be lobbied more intensely on the currency issue.

Energy prices were a concern at the last G-7 meeting in February and the one before that, but little action has resulted.

Snow acknowledged that G-7 statement itself “won’t do much about the fundamentals for demand and supply of oil.” But he said the statement should signal to the financial community that “the G-7 is monitoring the situation.”

In the United States, oil prices surged to an all-time high of $57.27 a barrel at the beginning of April. They hovered above $50 on Friday.

“These energy prices are too high. ... They call out for action,” Snow said.

Snow urged Congress to pass President Bush’s stalled energy bill, which would open an Alaskan wildlife refuge to oil exploration. Bush used his Saturday radio address to make the same point, saying U.S. families and small businesses are feeling the pinch from rising gasoline prices.

“Oil prices pose the biggest growth risk at the moment,” said Germany’s finance minister, Hans Eichel. “Prices are high and volatile” which produces “an element of insecurity.”

For now, energy prices are expected to slow economic growth modestly this year in the United States and elsewhere. “The outlook continues to point to solid growth for 2005,” the finance officials said in their statement.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments


Data: Latest rates in the US

Home equity rates View rates in your area
Home equity type Today +/- Chart
$30K HELOC FICO 3.79%
$30K home equity loan FICO 4.99%
$75K home equity loan FICO 4.69%
Credit card rates View more rates
Card type Today +/- Last Week
Low Interest Cards 13.83%
Cash Back Cards 17.80%
Rewards Cards 17.18%
Source: Bankrate.com