U.S. reverses slide in competitiveness

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An improvement in financial market conditions has helped reverse a 4-year decline in competitiveness rankings for the U.S.

The United States has been named the world's fifth most competitive country as growing confidence in the country's financial system helped reverse a four year slide down the leader board.

In the World Economic Forum's annual Global Competitiveness Report released Wednesday, the U.S. climbed two places to take fifth spot. Switzerland retained its number one ranking, with Singapore, Finland and Germany rounding out the top five.

The WEF rates a country's competitiveness based on its performance in 12 categories, including quality of institutions, infrastructure, financial market development and higher education and training.

America's rise this year was "down to a perceived improvement in the country's financial market as well as greater confidence in its public institutions," it said.

"The de-leveraging process in the banking sector continues to show positive effects on the stability and efficiency of the country's financial markets."

The news coincides with the fifth anniversary of the global financial crisis. The improved standing of the U.S. suggests some of the scars have begun to heal.

5 years later: Lessons from the crash

Banks are better capitalized and face tougher regulation -- albeit still not tough enough for some. Despite criticism that the Obama administration has failed to do enough to prosecute large financial institutions, the government appears to have stepped up its efforts in recent months. There has been a rise in new cases against large banks; some are related to the financial crisis and the housing market collapse from 2008.

The Securities and Exchange Commission says that as of September 2013, $2.7 billion has been paid in penalties for misconduct that led to or arose from the financial crisis.

Big banks legal tab: $66 billion and growing

A stabilization in stock markets also indicates a restoration of faith in the financial system. After shedding 5,000 points in the wake of the crisis, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has returned to new record highs this year.

The report noted trust in politicians remains weak. That lack of trust, and a perception that the U.S. government spends its resources relatively wastefully, are among the factors limiting overall competitiveness.

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