Monday, October 6, 2008

A bit of perspective on the Great Meltdown...

... which doesn't make it seem any less dire on a global scale, but points up a key fact not often referenced by American sources.

Chronicling the panic that has now hit Europe from Germany to Ireland, Iceland to Italy, Ambrose Evans Pritchard hides one important sentence deep in his narrative:

It turns out that European regulators have allowed even greater use of "off-books" chicanery than the Americans.


This is critical: the push toward banking, loan, and credit deregulation was in fact world-wide and not confined to the US. If you think otherwise, just sample this:

It took a weekend to shatter the complacency of German finance minister Peer Steinbr├╝ck. Last Thursday he told us that the financial crisis was an "American problem", the fruit of Anglo-Saxon greed and inept regulation that would cost the United States its "superpower status". Pleas from US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson for a joint US-European rescue plan to halt the downward spiral were rebuffed as unnecessary.

By Monday, Mr Steinbr├╝ck was having to orchestrate Germany's biggest bank bail-out, putting together a €35 billion loan package to save Hypo Real Estate. By then Europe was "staring into the abyss," he admitted. Belgium faced worse. It had to nationalise Fortis (with Dutch help), a 300-year-old bastion of Flemish finance, followed a day later by a bail-out for Dexia (with French help).

Within hours they were all trumped by Dublin. The Irish government issued a blanket guarantee of the deposits and debts of its six largest lenders in the most radical bank bail-out since the Scandinavian rescues in the early 1990s. Then France upped the ante with a €300 billion pan-European lifeboat for the banks. The drama has exposed Europe's dark secret for all to see. EU banks took on even more debt leverage than their US counterparts, despite the tirades against ''le capitalisme sauvage'' of the Anglo-Saxons.

We now know that it was French finance minister Christine Lagarde who begged Mr Paulson to save the US insurer AIG last week. AIG had written $300 billion in credit protection for European banks, admitting that it was for "regulatory capital relief rather than risk mitigation". In other words, it was underpinning a disguised extension of credit leverage. Its collapse would have set off a lending crunch across Europe as banking capital sank below water level.


Pritchard has been making dire prophecies of impending doom for the past five years. Most have written him off as an idiosyncratic crank with a forum. The reality is, however, that most of what he says has been coming true, right on schedule....

1 comment:

Duffy said...

"Pritchard has been making dire prophecies of impending doom for the past five years. Most have written him off as an idiosyncratic crank with a forum. The reality is, however, that most of what he says has been coming true, right on schedule.... "

True. Economists have predicted 9 out of the last 5 recessions ;-)