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  Sunday, November 1 2:45pm PST

Saatchi & Saatchi
 
Why Kosovo Matters to the Markets
 
 
 
If the West can't save Kosovo's Albanians, the outlook may be bleak for its own economies, argues SWF News Team journalist Alastair Thompson
 

The American share market has recovered a measure of its earlier enthusiasm in the aftermath of a painful start to the month, a trend helped by the recent decision of the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates. Wall Street's bulls are bellowing once again, but there remains considerable unease in world markets.

What is obvious from recent dramatic events in the market is that the futures trading desks of many of the world's biggest banks have been dealt a huge blow by the volatility of world markets over the past 18 months. The extent of this damage is just beginning to sink in now.

Given the effective failure of the Japanese, Thai, Korean, Indonesian and Russian economies, it is hardly surprising that markets in the U.S. and Europe are now also being affected by the economic troubles in emerging markets.

Nevertheless, in the end it has come as something of a surprise to the U.S. public that the failure of the rest of the world should affect them too.

Among the reasons for this shock was that rather than watching what was happening in the wider world, the American public had become transfixed by an inquiry into the President's dalliances.

The catch cry, "It's Dow Jones, not Paula Jones," summed up the beach boys approach to life enjoyed until recently by the presidential cheerleaders. But the tune is increasingly discordant.

In the aftermath of fornigate, the American public is now turning its attention back to the world

For two months now, the stock owning investing public (remember this is now 50% of Americans) has been hammered with increasingly ominous news of the global economic crisis.

Meanwhile, the weather seems to be getting strange, U.S. embassies are being blown up by terrorists and cruise missiles are being used to bomb pharmaceutical factories. Growing numbers of Americans are worried about genetically modified organisms (they sound like something my Mom would not put in her apple pie - but they are probably already there for all we know). Mad cow disease has red-meat eaters worried. And if you are a baby boomer, you are likely to be increasingly concerned at what is going to happen to you when you get old.

Further symptoms of the growing millennial madness, and its impact on the public, is the media obsession with personalities such as O.J., Clinton, Princess Diana, and Monica Lewinsky. For the public, the apparent chaos and craziness is evidence that the world is turning on its head.

Most important of all, however, to the global psyche is that clock ticking down to January 1, 2000, as if to detonation.

Is the global economic crisis over? Probably not.

The easing in interest rates by the Federal Reserve is taking place at all is an indication that the Bank thinks things are going to get worse, not better.

While in Europe and the U.S. falling interest rates will probably assist recovery - and may in some countries even prevent recession - the economic framework of the world is in deep trouble at this point. Hence all the President's recent words concerning reform of the "global economic architecture."

On the international front, the acid test will be Brazil. Unless the weaker U.S. dollar stems the flow of capital from South America, it is extremely likely there will be further banking damage in the U.S.

An I.M.F. package will assist in this process, but unless the Brazilian current account deficit is financed by voluntary foreign investment, the Brazilian economy runs a serious risk of becoming a basket case. U.S. banks are hugely exposed there.

However, even if all these problems somehow resolve themselves, the prospects for global markets are still not that positive.

If the currency speculators all pack up their bags and go home, if the banks extract themselves from their futures trading businesses, and if important investment projects in the developing world can continue to find capital at reasonable interest rates, there will still be the question of confidence.

When the crisis went global, it also localized to some extent in those countries that make up the vast bulk of the world's economy - Japan, the U.S. and Europe. And it is on the domestic front in these first world economies that the global crisis is now being fought.

Japanese consumers have been giving the noun a bad name for several years. Now evidence is beginning to emerge that other Western consumers are also having second thoughts on buying a new car till they are sure they have a job.

With so much chaos in the world, and headlines blaring "Capitalism in Crisis" all over the planet, any sign that the world is still progressing (rather than descending further into chaos) is seen as a ray of sunshine.

The concept of the end of the millennium fills many of us with fear. As does the apparent failure of capitalism.

As consumers, we are afraid that history will repeat itself, that a clash of economic ideologies will result in a few more decades of human misery. And we were hoping for so much more as we approach the 21st century.

Throughout the world, recent events have given hope a battering. And it is because of this that what happens in Kosovo is potentially important to world markets.

It is a lack of hope that makes consumers pay off their credit cards and hire purchases, in case they lose their jobs.

It is lack of hope that makes them take their money out of equities and stick it in the most apparently solid investment they can think of.

These consumer decisions have almost extinguished a $1 billion a day capital flow from the U.S. into emerging markets.

The only way to unlock this downward spiral is to convince the world that the millennium is something to look forward to. A time to consume, rather than squirrel all away.

To do this, the objective of Western governments has to be the restoration of hope.

What seemed to be the last-minute prevention of a renewed conflagration in the Balkans on October 13 kindled a flame of hope.

It was an indication that perhaps now - at the close of the 20th century - we were finally beginning to learn something about preventing war. It was also the first indication for some time that the drive for powerful footage on the TV news was no longer driving First World foreign policy.

Not to bomb was a harder decision to make than to bomb. But now the U.S. and Nato have to live up to what they have started.

Kosovo is special because the means for the protection of its beleaguered Albanian population is so close at hand.

From an international perspective, this is important, because if the U.N. and NATO cannot protect Kosovo's Albanians, can any one really count on international protection?

From a First World domestic point of view, it is important too. This is because the failure to achieve simple stated objectives - as in Kosovo - will further reinforce the idea that even collectively the mighty nations of the First World are powerless to control their own destiny, either economically or morally.

 
 

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