The WSJ had a must read article on Europe's grim outlook. It echoes things I have been saying for a long time. It is also why I think the next big leg down will have something to do with Europe but if I had to guess is probably a good three to nine months out. I could put the whole thing below, it is full of very good information.
European banks' losses from the global financial crisis are now projected to overtake U.S. banks' losses, according to IMF figures, which could hurt the banks' ability to lend liberally to help the bloc out of its crisis. More than half of the losses on continental Europe are homemade, the IMF said, reflecting bad loans to European firms and households rather than toxic U.S. securities.
The worsening outlook for the 27-nation EU is a blow for many of the region's governments, who have argued that the U.S. is the center of the global economic storm and that Europe's problems are smaller. Because of that, plus fear of rising inflation and public debt, authorities in much of Europe have been slower than those in the U.S. or leading Asian economies to cut interest rates or adopt ambitious fiscal-stimulus measures.
In a sign of such spillover, Peoria, Ill.-based equipment maker Caterpillar Inc. said its first-quarter sales to Europe fell 46% from a year ago, significantly more than its sales declines in the U.S., Asia or Latin America, as it announced a first-quarter loss on Tuesday.
In France, labor protests became more violent this week as workers stormed and ransacked a government building near Paris, after they failed in court to prevent the shutdown of their tire factory, owned by German auto-parts company Continental AG. German Trade Union Federation head Michael Sommer warned his country's industrialists this week that such social unrest could spread to Germany if mass layoffs multiply.
The weakening of Europe's banking sector is potentially more damaging for the wider economy than woes at U.S. banks, because Europe's financial system relies more on bank lending and less on securities markets. Although Europe's banks have bigger balance sheets than U.S. lenders, so that their losses are smaller as a proportion of total assets, they will need more fresh money than the U.S. to repair their capital buffers, the IMF said.
An IMF report published Tuesday said that write-downs at Western European banks outside the U.K. will total $1.109 trillion for 2007-2010, topping the U.S. total of $1.049 trillion. Banks in the euro zone have so far written down only 17% of their losses, compared with roughly 50% at U.S. banks, the IMF said. U.K. banks have written down about a third of their $310 billion in expected losses, the report said.
Europe's economy also faces a greater risk of further deterioration than other regions because of the deep economic and financial crisis in the formerly communist East. Austria-based banks, for example, have some $278 billion in exposure to those countries, equivalent to over 70% of Austria's gross domestic product.
The IMF expects Continental European banks' losses on emerging-market assets to reach $172 billion by 2010, more than four times the emerging-market losses it expects for U.K., U.S. or Asian banks.