Wall Street woes: why world's investors sit on sidelines
Job No. 1 for central bankers: restore confidence in markets.
The new challenge for the world's central bankers is not saving another bank or financial institution. It's restoring confidence in world markets.Skip to next paragraph
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Just like August 2007 when the US housing debacle began, investors and bankers are now distrustful of lending money even to fellow bankers. When giant insurance company AIG needed help, no one except the Federal Reserve was willing to come to the rescue. The US stock market, sometimes considered a barometer of confidence in the economy, is slipping further into the red. Overseas, market losses are steeper.
The short-term implications of the void in confidence is skyrocketing short-term interest rates, which have prompted central banks to inject billions of dollars to try to calm world markets. Longer term, unless confidence returns, the world's economic prospects could dim further.
In the US, the financial events of the past few weeks hit a dizzying pace. On Sept. 7, the US government took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both major players in the mortgage market. Then on Monday, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy after the government refused to bail it out and Merrill Lynch was purchased by Bank of America. On Tuesday night, the US Federal Reserve agreed to give insurer AIG a short-term bridge loan of $85 billion so it can begin to sell some of its assets. At the same time, there were reports that regulators are gauging interest among other banks in buying Washington Mutual.
Globally, there are reports of major changes as well. In London, Britain's largest mortgage lender, HBOS, saw its stock lose 30 percent of its value in two days and there are reports it will be acquired by Lloyds TSB.