Global credit system suffers cardiac arrest on US crash
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
The global credit system came close to total seizure yesterday. Key parts of the derivatives market shut down and a panic flight to safety depressed the yield on three-month US Treasury bills to almost zero for the first since the Great Depression in 1934.
The collapse in investor confidence is a harsh verdict on the judgment of the US Federal Reserve, which chose to ignore market pleas for a rate cut to halt what amounts to a modern-era run on the banking system. Almost none of the current Fed governors have market experience. Most are academic theorists.
Bernard Connolly, global strategist at Banque AIG, said the Fed and the Treasury were doing too little, too late, to stave off disaster. Interest rates need to be cut immediately and dramatically, while Washington must prepare for a wholesale takeover of large parts of the lending system along the lines of the Scandinavian bank rescues in the early 1990s.
"Unless there is a very rapid change of mind, depression - with all its horrors and consequences - will be inevitable. The judgment that letting Lehmans go would not create systemic risk depended, if it was ever going to be anything other than ludicrous, on very rapid action to shore up the financial system. Instead, Hank Paulson seems to be adding to the risk in the system," he said.
"We fear that a virtual nationalisation of the financial system will now be necessary," he said.
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Russia suspended trading the Moscow bourse after the Micex index crashed 24pc in two days. Officials promised $44bn to support the banking system.
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The Treasury's rescue of the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has added $5.3 trillion in liabilities to the US government. It almost doubles the national debt (under IMF definitions), at least on paper.
The Fed has now added a further $85bn in debt for AIG. While the sums are manageable so far, what worries investors is the likely avalanche of insolvencies yet to come.
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Hans Redeker, currency chief at BNP Paribas, says the US debt scare is vastly overblown. America's total government debt is 48pc of GDP on IMF measures, compared to 57pc for Germany, 94pc for Japan and 108pc for Italy.
"The debt levels are nothing compared to Europe, even after Fannie and Freddie. America still has great leeway," he said.
"We think the next phase of this crisis is going to be a repatriation story as American investors bring their money back from frontier markets. (- - - - - -)."
Albert Edwards, global strategist at Société Générale, said Washington's serial bail-outs are the inevitable result of the credit bubble of preceding years. "This was all baked in the cake long ago. What we have seen so far is just a dress rehearsal for the deep recession that is coming. America is going to be losing 500,000 jobs a month. That is when we will see interest rates go to zero. The deficit will be covered with printed money as it was in Japan. The endgame will be helicopters full of cash dropped by Ben Bernanke," he said.