Sunday 22 July 2018

Donal O'Donovan: Stock market plunge has inevitable echoes of 2008 financial crash

Poetic timing as we approach the 10th anniversary of the start of the Irish financial crash

We approach the 10th anniversary of the start of the Irish financial crash. (Stock picture)
We approach the 10th anniversary of the start of the Irish financial crash. (Stock picture)
Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

The massive plunge on the stock market over the past few days has struck with almost poetic timing as we approach the 10th anniversary of the start of the Irish financial crash.

It will inevitably spark greater fears here than in many countries. That's in part because as a famously open trading economy, we rise faster and get battered harder depending how world trade is doing.

But it is also because so many households and businesses here are really still only in the process of clawing their way back from the crisis. A side swipe now could plunge many back into dire straits.

Mercifully, relatively little of the trillions of euro wiped out in the last few days are Irish, but households here are exposed, especially those saving through pension funds or that own shares directly.

If the market steadies, short-term losses will be contained.

In the greater scheme of things the violent shock wave that went through the financial system in the past few days was fundamentally a fearful reaction to the idea that interest rates are set to rise.

The good news for mortgage-payers here is that isn't likely to happen on this side of the Atlantic in the near term.

The bad news is the world financial system - despite the millions paid to top bankers and the rise of ever more sophisticated trading and financial software - appears to be utterly unable to cope with the reality that access to cheap money is coming to an end.

That won't have been lost on Mario Draghi, whose European Central Bank has been tentatively approaching the idea of normalising our financial system for at least a year, hoping that it can stop propping up banks without the economy falling down.

Falling down is a possibility. The vulnerabilities of the Irish economy are well known. There is debt all the way up and all the way down the Irish system, an awful lot of which has rolled onto the Government's books over the past decade.

Even if mortgage interest rates in the euro area aren't in any near-term danger of hikes, many employers will be. That's especially true of US multinationals and some of the US funds that have poured billions into Ireland over the past few years.

Higher interest bills at home, and indeed a squeeze on US investors, will soften their coughs to a greater of lesser extent.

The good news is that the markets faltered this week at a time when the real economy is doing well. Two weeks ago the International Monetary Fund lifted its forecast for global economic growth.

Whether it was a crash or a correction on the markets in the past two days, the one thing it wasn't was a reaction to a bad underlying economy.

The economy seems to be OK, it's the financial market that's supposed to support it that's not fit for purpose.

Irish Independent

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