Warren Buffett: “In my adult lifetime, I don’t think I’ve ever seen people as fearful
Germany takes hot seat as Europe falls into the abyss
Warren Buffett: “In my adult lifetime, I don’t think I’ve ever seen people as fearful.”
We face extreme danger. Unless there is immediate intervention on every front by all the major powers acting in concert, we risk a disintegration of global finance within days. Nobody will be spared, unless they own gold bars.
Investors will learn today whether the Paulson bail-out - fattened to $850bn (£480bn) by Congress - can begin to halt the death spiral in the credit system. So far, the response looks terrible.
Germany is now in the hot seat. The collapse of a rescue deal for Hypo Real Estate on Saturday threatens a €400bn (£311bn) bankruptcy that nearly matches the Lehman Brothers debacle for sheer scale.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has been forced to pull her head out of the sand, guaranteeing all German savings, a day after she rebuked Ireland for doing much the same thing. Reality intrudes.
During the past week, we have tipped over the edge, into the middle of the abyss. Systemic collapse is in full train. The Netherlands has just rushed through a second, more sweeping nationalisation of Fortis. Ireland and Greece have had to rescue all their banks. Iceland is facing an Argentine denouement.
The US commercial paper market is closed. It shrank $95bn last week, and has lost $208bn in three weeks. The interbank lending market has seized up. There are almost no bids. It is a ghost market. Healthy companies cannot roll over debt. Some will have to sack staff today to stave off default.
As the unflappable Warren Buffett puts it, the credit freeze is “sucking blood” out of the economy. “In my adult lifetime, I don’t think I’ve ever seen people as fearful,” he said.
We are fast approaching the point of no return. The only way out of this calamitous descent is “shock and awe” on a global scale, and even that may not be enough.
Drastic rate cuts would be a good start. Central bankers still paralysed by a misplaced fear of inflation – whether in Europe, Britain, or the US – have become a public menace and should be held to severe account by our democracies. The imminent and massive danger is now self-feeding debt deflation.
The lesson of the 1930s is that any country trying to reflate in isolation will be punished. The crisis will ricochet from one economy to another until every one is crippled. We are seeing it play again in this drama as our leaders fail to rise above their narrow, parochial agendas.
The European Central Bank – which raised rates into the teeth of the crisis in July – has played a shockingly destructive role in this enveloping slump. Its growth predictions this year have been, and still are, delusional. Neglecting its global role, it has vastly complicated the fire-fighting efforts of Washington.
It could have offered “cover” to the US Federal Reserve this spring when Ben Bernanke was forced by events to slash rates to 2pc. It could at least have signalled an end to monetary tightening. That is how an ally ought to behave.
Instead, it stuck maniacally to its Gothic script, with equally unhappy consequences for both sides of the Atlantic, as well as for China, Japan, and India. The euro rocketed yet further, which it turn set off an oil shock as crude metamorphosed into an anti-dollar with leverage.