Sunday, May 2, 2010


The storm that is shaking the West in the spotlight of its media, told step by step

After the third "Black Monday" in a row, a sign of a new week of stock market disaster, the extent of economic and financial crisis that the West is going through are so broad that virtually no comprehensive body of information could avoid dealing with the topic . The complexity of the problem, its belonging to the financial world, and the long period when roots led us to propose a reading that seeks to take stock of the situation in clear and simple, trying to assess the possible prospects.

It all began
The origins of today's crisis from the United States. More precisely, the origin of the problem is the U.S. housing market, which last year had already talked about in the world. As happened with the crisis of the New Economy at the beginning of the millennium, the origin of the financial difficulties there is an economic bubble burst, or the sudden collapse of a system based primarily on financial speculation.

Speculation about the real estate market specifically concerned. The U.S. real estate market for years has marked an impressive growth rate, which was used to sell a house bought 4 or 5 years before or almost twice the value. An investment fond, almost certainly, that has driven many Americans to borrow even through the first home loans to buy a second for resale at the right time. The dizzying pace of growth in the housing market, however, was excessive, unnatural: the prices that were created did not reflect why the actual value of the property, but were exclusively the result of the market and this continues, widespread speculation.

Sooner or later, but this race to the top that feeds itself naturally had to stop, thereby creating a new club, this time downward. The loss of affordability of houses whose value fell rapidly as the market demand, comes the famous subprime crisis.

The subprime
With this concept we mean those loans granted to creditors "unreliable". This is the case of an individual or company that needs credit, but may not have access to a normal mortgage because it has a past credit "unreliable", that has had remarkable episodes of insolvency or excessive delays or failures behind, or in any economic conditions that would make a debtor risk. In these subjects the Bank proposes a solution credit subprime, or to conditions worse than those "firsts": the highest rates, particularly variable depending on the market. That the loan was signed at a certain interest rate, but this could vary according to market down to the benefit of the debtor (very rarely) or go, according to formulas of unprecedented complexity.

The link between the subprime housing market and explains its nell'inaffidabilità departing who deducts the debt. The bank, funded not because it is able to repay, but because of high interest rates that may apply to face the high risk. What happened in America, due to movements in the housing market, was that all debtors were no longer able to repay loans, because their real estate investments lost value as interest rates grew to the contrary, together with the 'increase in delinquencies. In addition, the high amount of foreclosures, which did not give further depressed property market, as the foreclosure homes market ended in the ranks of an offer that was getting bigger, contributing to the devaluation of homes.

Domino effect
Then began the season of "famous failures". The first to fall into the vortex were institutions working specifically in mortgages (now mostly insolvent) and property (at peak). This was the first concentric circle of a wave that began to spread. The second circle were banks that had loans tied to mortgages such as Bear Stearns and Indy Mac, both American. These banks, through appropriate financial instruments, had packages related to mortgages (mortgages backed security), which served in turn as credit securities. In other words, even large amounts of credits that lost value because of defaults indirect.

Then it was the turn of other companies, which had nothing directly to do with the sale of mortgages, but were dragged to the crisis of two types of connection: they had assets or investments or parts thereof (assets) that "hidden" packages of loans (toxic assets), or were holders of so-called "derivatives": ie, insurance contracts on mortgage risk. And then got into difficulties giants like Lehman Brothers, AIG, Merrill Lynch and HBOS, while many others were put under pressure by the earthquake loss. Or the failure of such banks, as is a case in the recent Lehman Brothers, means that the bank becomes insolvent astronomical figures to creditors who may not withstand such a blow minimally.

Investment banks and commercial banks
The banks most at risk were (and still are) the investment banks. This is for their structural features, since that does not deal directly deposits, but dealing with financial transactions, transition to consulting, investment, etc.. Moreover, investment banks are under less restrictive legislation. Since it is not money savers, in fact, can venture more easily at higher risk operations, which have greater earnings potential, however.

Both of these qualities have betrayed such banks were the main actors of investment risk (such as those linked to subprime), and while their capital was made only securities, loans, etc.. Without having the strongest roots currency of a traditional bank. This essentially explains why a few weeks ago, following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, two of the largest investment banks in the world, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, have switched their status in institutions of ordinary credit.

Commercial banks so far are those that were less affected by the earthquake crisis. For these institutions the main problems are dependent on the level of exposure to the investment banks had failed (or if they had larger debt, now frozen), in addition to the general disruption of the awards, which are tumbling equities, both owned by them, is their own. One example is the case of Italian Unicredit, whose crisis averted when, last week, had been due to general depression of the securities, compounded by her case by a takeover attempt by foreign investors. Or that they had deliberately put the title into further difficulties, then buy it at cost-effective.

Europe assistencialist
The problem of commercial banks is the most experienced in the old continent, which at present is focusing its policy to secure the deposits of savers. The operation, already chosen by the German, Irish, Danish, but in the process of adoption in many others (including Italy), is to guarantee to depositors significant sum of cash. This means, in order to avoid the dangerous consequences of a collective distrust in the banking system, which would lead everyone to withdraw their money for alternative investments, some in gold, as happens these days in England, who under the mattress. With the result of a total collapse and general economies.

In this solution, it is flanked to nationalize some institutions already in serious trouble, as did the Benelux against the Belgian bank Dexia, and as Gordon Brown is essentially doing some major British groups, through a specially established fund. As seen above, any transaction was therefore decided by individual states, with improper delay of the European Union, whose intervention, many long relied stressed this strategy, requiring Member States to establish minimum coverage to all depositors .

United States 'socialist'
American policy has meanwhile found crushed by countless pressures in dealing with the crisis. On the one hand, the political fear of making wrong choices in preparation for the election to the gates. On the other, and serious economic situation of a country under fire from the outset. All compounded by the high number of American people with housing problems, serious problem with significant social, direct consequence of the loans. For now, the biggest move by the U.S. administration was determined to put a cap to the crisis with a giant $ 700 billion fund, used to detect packet of toxic assets, and therefore almost bestowed a grant to recapitalize institutions worst crisis in this market.

Crisis in the world
The proportions of the financial crisis obviously had and are having repercussions around the world. Asian stocks, intertwined issues with the U.S. economy, suffered the stroke, and also registered record losses for years. This explains why some leaders are considering East in this period the creation of a regional fund to disengage in some way by global finance.

The speech for South America and Africa is somewhat similar. The financial backwardness in both cases, especially in Africa, has taken to protect the economies of these countries from the global storm. For backward means that institutions of these countries had the financial means and knowledge to participate actively in the investment market of the proposals advanced at risk. The key variable is time, therefore the dependence of these countries the economy and foreign capital, both severely weakened. In the case of Latin America, for example, there are states like Ecuador that use the dollar as the first coin, and have an economy that depends in large part from raw materials. In these cases, the economic destiny can not ignore the economic fortunes of the West.

According to an interview (reported in the newspaper Peacereporter) to a Ghanaian economist, however, some African economies could also prove to serene islands of flight capital from the difficult markets of the world. On the other hand, however, hangs on the continent's dependence on the sale of raw materials, the threat that international aid will suffer a big decline, the potential substantial reduction in capital inflows.

An ethical issue
Iceland is perhaps the country that currently has most suffered the blow of the global crisis because of its economy, composed largely of the credit sector. The Icelandic prime minister regretted the comment introduces what is the ethical issue that runs behind this situation: managers have lost sight of national interests. Stock options, which link the salaries of managers to the profits of the company, finance killer and unbiased, which commits money more often than others in high-risk investments. All elements of a system that went directly in the dock.

Why then are very challenged all solutions, primarily American, offering state aid to institutions in difficulty, guilty and not least the victims of unscrupulous behavior. As if the State were to run to the rescue with taxpayers' money, managers in trouble, even if guilty, for the sole benefit of the economy.

This seems a bit 'be the knot of modern ethical discourse, but also systemic, peeping behind the discussion on possible solutions. A crossroads between economic models: the extent to which must be protected, encouraged, accepted the interests of big companies, in particular interest of a few to defend the national economy?

A question whose answer may perhaps make this crisis even an opportunity to review certain structural distortions of our economies.