Successive Market Losses Trigger Stampede to Safe Havens
The rout on the financial markets is continuing as European stock exchanges are in retreat following the bloodbath on Wall Street and the Asian exchanges. One can grasp the seriousness of the crisis from intervention by the European Central Bank to buy Italian and Spanish debt to prevent debt service from ballooning to unsustainable proportions.
The ECB has been out of the bond market for five months and would have preferred to remain on the sidelines, but the growing crisis has left it with no option. Another sign is the announcement that Chancellor Angela Merkel, Spanish Premier Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and French President Nicolas Sarkozy will confer today by telephone.
People are frantically looking for a haven in order to park their cash. Switzerland whose Franc is considered such a haven has lowered interest paid on such deposits and there are global banks that are actually charging negative interest for the privilege of serving as a cash parking lot for unusually large deposits.
Some of us can still remember the day that they gave out free color TV sets to attract depositors. In effect people are going back to the idea of keeping money under the floor boards or, as they say in Israel, under the floor tiles.
One no longer uses the phrase like money in a bank as in Greece investors are quietly withdrawing their life savings because they no longer trust debt riddled banks with it.
One proposed solution to the European crisis calls for tighter coordination between members of the euro zone. Now this idea has been taken one step further Japan's Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Kaoru Yosano called for the United States and Europe to coordinate policies amid the market chaos that swept from Wall Street to Asian bourses on Friday. This was the only way, he said, to prevent economies from being "trapped in pessimism".
In better times the idea made sense. When one zone went into recession another zone would replace it as the economic locomotive. Currently, all three zones are performing anemically as cabooses or even detached rolling stock and there is no locomotive in sight. Even China and Germany are slowing down.
At this stage it is not certain that even an FDR could assure people that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. People are afraid because they don't believe that any of the financial whiz kids has a quick fix to avoid global recession.