Monday, 9 June 2008

On the Verge of a Catastophe?

I found this article here, on, and it seemed rather interesting. The global ecomonic crisis, if it can be called that, is worrying, but I'm in no position to say whether we're any worse off here than anywhere else in the world (besides the fact that prices for about everything but food and services were always too high [close to or higher than prices in Western Europe] and now food and services are catching up). This article suggests that indeed things are worse here. The translation is mine, and as usual, I am solely to blame for any mistakes or omissions (except of course those that occur in the original article).

Lithuania -- On the Brink of Disaster

"What can you do when the members of your family complain about the rising prices of food, gasoline, and airline tickets?" a British journalist asked in the Sunday Times. The answer was this: "Just for a minute consider how someone from Ukraine, where food prices have risen 30 percent in the past year, feels."

Britons are complaining that it will not be possible to tolerate inflation, which in April reached 3 percent, while in Eastern Europe and Russia consumer prices have experienced double-digit growth. People in Eastern Europe are already beginning to panic, although the most important cause of inflation, the rising cost of food products, is the same in both Eastern and Western Europe. The difference is that in poorer countries the amount of money spent on food makes up a bigger part of the cost of living: 60 percent in Ukraine, 40 percent in Russia, almost 26 percent in Lithuania, and barely 10 percent in the United Kingdom.

Besides that, there is a very serious situation in the Eastern European labor market not only because there are too many cleaners or plumbers, but also because inflation is having a strong effect on salaries. In the private sector in Hungary, salaries have gone up 9 percent over the past year. Even if prices for food products go down at the end of the year, inflation will not be stopped.

The West has become concerned about rising inflation in Eastern Europe. First of all, that is because they have been encouraged to pump massive investments into those countries in the belief that as the economies of those countries grow, inflation will fall. But those "new markets" are suffering from a problem that make the "credit bubble" in the West look like a fairy tale in comparison. Experts from the investment bank Morgan Stanley have already called Eastern Europe the next place for a catastrophe and have begun comparing it to Asia in 1997.

Eastern Europe is deeply in debt and that debt is quickly getting bigger. In Latvia in 2002–2006, real estate prices grew 40 percent (though they have gone down a bit recently). The complaints of people in the West do not appear to be worth any attention if compared to what is going on in Latvia and its neighbors.

There are experts, however, who say that the situation in Europe will not affect other regions of the world such as Asia and Latin America. The countries of Asia have truly recovered from the crisis of more than ten years ago. Even though inflation stands at 8 percent in China, if food prices are not counted, the figure falls to just 1.8 percent. Latin America is now being flooded with money, and prices for the most important raw materials are growing in leaps and bounds. It would be naive to expect that the "new markets" will protect the West from recession, however. Climbing inflation could destroy macroeconomic stability. In the worst case, investors will lose faith in the local currency. There is more faith in Eastern Europe, where investments are made in euros and Swiss francs. Some economists have warned, however, that having such faith may lead some to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire since large debts will not be the cause of the crisis in those countries, as has happened more than once. "Everything can be blamed on easy money", Morgan Stanley economist Joachim Fels says. Professor Carmen Reinhart of Maryland University agrees with him: "Technology, the height of people, and fashion change. What doesn't change is the desire of governments and investors to fool themselves."

Nine countries on the brink of disaster:
1. Jamaica
2. Ukraine
3. Kazakhstan
4. Bulgaria
5. Surinam
6. Latvia
7. Lithuania
8. Vietnam
9. Sri Lanka

No comments: