Global crash fears as German bank sinks
Faisal Islam, economics correspondent and Will Hutton Sunday October 6, 2002 The Observer
Stockbrokers around the world are braced for a
potentially calamitous week as alarm mounts over a looming, Thirties-style
global financial crisis. A leaked email about the credit-worthiness of
Commerzbank, Germany's third largest bank, yesterday increased fears of the
international stock market malaise exploding into a fully-fledged banking
Commerzbank lost a quarter of its value last week, raising the spectre of Credit-anstalt, the Austrian bank that collapsed in 1931, sparking global depression.
US stock markets have fallen for six consecutive weeks, to their lowest levels in five years. European markets have collapsed even further, wiping out nearly half of the value of European corporations in this year alone. Japan is struggling to put together a plan to save its banking system, riddled with bad debt after a decade of recession and falling prices. Now the German economy threatens to follow.
'There are strong parallels to the Thirties after an unsustainable "new era" boom,' says Avinash Persaud managing director for economics and research at State Street Bank. 'Then, the stock market decline was not just steep, it was long, taking three years to reach the bottom.'
'Commerzbank being affected is a sign of the severity. But in today's crisis risks have been offloaded from the banks to the markets and ultimately our pensioners, which makes the problem more difficult to deal with,' he says. The leaked email about Commerzbank was in response to an inquiry from a US investment bank about rumours of huge losses on credit derivatives, which aim to spread risk.
Figures due to be published on Friday will show that a toll of stock market falls, rising joblessness and war fears is finally denting the spending habits of Americans. Economists fear that the result may be a 'double-dip' US recession, taking much of the world with it.
Europe's finance Ministers, including Chancellor Gordon Brown, will meet in Luxembourg on Tuesday amid deepening concern about the stability of the financial system. Tomorrow evening, the Eurogroup of finance ministers, excluding Brown, will discuss reforming Europe-wide tax and spending rules along the lines of the British system, taking stronger account of economic difficulties.
In the US, the concern is that Alan Greenspan, chairman of the US Federal Reserve, has insufficient room to cut interest rates if the economy falls into recession. 'The [Bush] Administration has two lines of action: tax relief for the rich [and] reliance on the Federal Reserve. Both are without effect,' says US economist JK Galbraith in an interview with The Observer.