Geithner sees U.S. economy strengthening

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Outgoing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner thinks the U.S. economy will strengthen this year -- as long as Congress avoids cutting spending too deeply in a budget deal and Europe's economy gradually improves.

In an interview Friday on his last day in office, Geithner said, "The economy is stronger than people appreciate." He said he agrees with many private forecasters that growth will accelerate this year, in part because the U.S. economy is no longer being held back by oil shocks and Europe's debt crisis has subsided.

Asked about his future, Geithner ruled out the possibility that he would return to Washington as chairman of the Federal Reserve next year, when Ben Bernanke's term ends, if asked by President Barack Obama.

Geithner has been viewed as among the front-runners for the Fed job. "There are lots of people more qualified than me," Geithner said.

Obama last week nominated Jack Lew, his chief of staff and formerly the White House budget director, to succeed Geithner as Treasury secretary.

Geithner served during a turbulent four years in which the administration had to confront the worst U.S. economic and financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

In the interview, Geithner said:

A move by House leaders to postpone a deadline for raising the government's borrowing limit for nearly four months is encouraging. But it must be followed by action to remove the threat of a first-ever U.S. government default from budget talks.

A permanent solution for beleaguered mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which the government took over in 2008, might not be achieved before Obama leaves office.

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He defended bailing out large banks to stabilize the financial system: "It is very hard to convince people or make credible to people the risks that we were living with at that time. That we could have had a much deeper collapse of not just the U.S. economy but the global economy."

Geithner said he planned to take a trip with his wife and to use the rod and reel given to him by Treasury colleagues as a parting gift.

"I am definitely learning how to fly-fish," he said.

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