Good Survey: How Bad in Emerging Markets?

From Der Spiegel (translated into English, though). Hat tip to Yves Smith


11/04/2008 04:54 PM

What Happens when Countries Go Bankrupt?


First it was mortgage lenders. Then large banks began to wobble. Now, entire countries, including Ukraine and Pakistan, are facing financial ruin. The International Monetary Fund is there to help, but its pockets are only so deep.

No, Alexander Lukyanchenko told reporters at a hastily convened press conference last Tuesday, there is “no reason whatsoever to spread panic.” Anyone who was caught trying to throw people out into the street, he warned, would have the authorities to deal with.

Lukyanchenko is the mayor of Donetsk, a city in eastern Ukraine with a population of a little more than one million. For generations, the residents of Donetsk have earned a living in the surrounding coalmines and steel mills, a rather profitable industry in the recent past. Donetsksta, a local steel producer, earned 1.3 billion euros ($1.65 billion) in revenues last year.

But last Tuesday the mayor, returning from a meeting with business leaders, had bad news: two-thousand metalworkers would have to be furloughed. Lukyanchenko doesn’t use the word furlough, instead noting that the workers will be doing “other, similar work.” But every other blast furnace has already been shut down, and one of the city’s largest holding companies is apparently gearing up for mass layoffs.

Under these conditions, how could panic not be rampant in Donetsk, the capital of Ukraine’s industrial heartland? In Mariupol, a steelworking city, a third of the workers have already been let go. The chemical industry, Ukraine’s second-largest source of export revenue, is also ailing. In the capital Kiev, booming until recently, construction cranes are at a standstill while crowds jostle in front of currency exchange offices, eager to convert their assets into US dollars.

Donetsk is in eastern Ukraine, 8,100 kilometers (5,030 miles) from New York’s Wall Street and 2,700 kilometers (1,677 miles) from Canary Wharf, London’s financial center. But such distances are now relative. The world financial crisis has reached a new level. No longer limited to banks and companies, it is now spreading like wildfire and engulfing entire economies. It has reached Asia and Latin America, Eastern Europe, Iceland the Seychelles, the Balkan nation of Serbia and Africa’s southernmost country, South Africa.

It is a development that has investors and speculators alike holding their breath. Some are pulling their money out of troubled countries, while others are betting on a continued decline — and in doing so are only accelerating the downturn. Central banks are desperately trying to halt the downward trend, but in many cases the plunge seems unstoppable.

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