Thursday, October 2, 2008

The U.S. Financial Crisis Is Spreading to Europe

Barely a week after Europeans rebuffed American pleas to join in their bailout of the banking system, Europe now faces a financial crisis almost as grave as that in the United States — demonstrating how swiftly this contagion is spreading around the world.

In the last two days, governments from London to Berlin have seized or bailed out five faltering banks. In Ireland, where rumors of panicked withdrawals from banks spooked the stock market, the government has offered a two-year blanket guarantee on all deposits and bank debt.

Asia has been less buffeted by the turmoil, though a brief run on a bank in Hong Kong last week brought back dark memories of June 1997, when speculation against the Thai currency sparked a financial crisis that fanned rapidly across Asia, and later to Brazil and Russia.

Economists see a parallel between these two crises a decade apart: once creditors panic and begin to pull out their holdings, the underlying health of banks — or entire countries — no longer matters a great deal. In a global financial system, national borders are porous.

“In this day and age, a bank run spreads around the world, not around the block,” said Thomas Mayer, the chief European economist at Deutsche Bank. “Once a bank run is under way, it doesn’t matter anymore if you have good loans or bad loans. People lose confidence in you."