Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Crisis in Dubai

by MIKE WHITNEY

The default in Dubai is not the beginning of Financial Meltdown 2.  Don’t look for dominoes here. Yes, it does raise serious questions about the vast debt-overhang in emerging economies–particularly East Europe. But, this is not a "sovereign default" in the strict sense, nor is there any great risk of contagion. Oil-rich Abu Dhabi is loaded with liquid assets, possibly as much as $800 billion. They could pay off Dubai World’s measly $60 billion debt without batting an eye. But Abu Dhabi wants to send its wastrel younger brother a wake-up-call by forcing Dubai to restructure its debt. That means that banks, bondholders and contractors will have to take a haircut, which is not surprising given the abysmal condition of the commercial real estate market.

Dubai World owners were caught up in the same heady debt-fueled commercial construction-binge that swept across the United States. The problem can be traced back to lax lending standards and low interest rates. Now demand has fallen off a cliff and credit is getting tighter.   Dubai World can’t roll over its debt or meet its obligations. That’s what typically happens when credit bubbles bursts.

On Thursday, Bank of America analysts issued a statement:  “One cannot rule out — as a tail-risk — a case where this would escalate into a major sovereign default problem, which would then resonate across global emerging markets in the same way that Argentina did in the early 2000s or Russia in the late 1990s.”

This is nonsense. There will be no sovereign default. Abu Dhabi is not going to send global markets into a nosedive to save a few billion dollars. B of A is blowing smoke. Oil has already slipped $3 per barrel since the crisis began. There will probably be a tentative resolution by the time the markets open on Monday. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t important lessons to be learned from this latest financial calamity. There are.

First, it illustrates that the financial crisis is not over—households, businesses and countries are still deleveraging. This ongoing process will slow spending and increase defaults, bankruptcies and foreclosures. Government guarantees and stimulus programs will not reverse prevailing trends.  More incidents like Dubai World should be expected. These "credit events" will disrupt the recovery and spur greater risk-aversion which will push stocks downward.

Arnab Das of RGE Monitor sums it up like this: "We’re bound to see a rise in risk aversion.  The Dubai situation signifies that although the major central banks around the world have stabilized the financial system, they can’t make all the excesses simply disappear. We still have to work out those balance sheet stresses. The recovery is proceeding, but significant challenges still lie ahead.” (Bloomberg News)

Second, when these incidents take place, there’s likely to considerable collateral damage from the unregulated insurance policies (credit default swaps) which underwrite the bonds. These CDS derivatives are not sold on a public exchange so no one knows who holds them, in what amount, or whether the issuer has sufficient capital reserves to pay off claims. We should expect a repeat of AIG over and over again (although smaller) until the system is either regulated or CDS are banned. The bottom line, is that the current financial architecture is not designed to work; it is designed to make a handful of speculators very rich. These speculators own congress, the White House and the financial media, which is why there has been no meaningful change in regulations.

Dubai is not Argentina. There will be a resolution and contractors will get paid, although not "in full." There will be losses. Big losses. But no contagion.

News of Dubai’s payment "standstill" roiled global markets where investor confidence was already thin. The dollar and yen strengthened and US Treasuries surged. The "flight to safety" is making it doubly hard for the Fed to reflate asset prices. Dubai-like credit events make investors jittery and they pull in their horns. That extends the slump and deepens the recession.

If the Dubai crisis drags on, the dollar will get stronger and the flourishing carry trade will crash. That means that the maxed-out banks (which are heavily invested in high-risk positions) will get clobbered once again. That’s the nightmare scenario.

The Fed has wrapped its arms around the financial system and provided unlimited guarantees on trillions of dollars of dodgy collateral. Even so, that might not be enough.

This just in….

Monday update:

Nov. 30 (Bloomberg) — The United Arab Emirates’ central bank eased credit for lenders and said it “stands behind” the country’s local and foreign banks as they face losses from Dubai World’s possible default….. Banks will be able to borrow money from the regulator for half a percentage point above the three month local benchmark interest rate, the Abu Dhabi-based Central Bank of the U.A.E. said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

“This is a timely pre-emptive move from the central bank," Ahmet Akarli,  an economist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in London said in a note to investors. The central bank is “ensuring that local markets are operational” and banks “have access to ample liquidity.” (Bloomberg)

Government-Sachs to the rescue, right on cue.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 30, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
Thinking Dangerously in the Age of Normalized Ignorance
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel and Academic Freedom: a Closed Book
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Can Russia Learn From Brazil’s Fate? 
Andrew Levine
A Putrid Election: the Horserace as Farce
Mike Whitney
The Biggest Heist in Human History
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Sick Blue Line
Rob Urie
The Twilight of the Leisure Class
Vijay Prashad
In a Hall of Mirrors: Fear and Dislike at the Polls
Alexander Cockburn
The Man Who Built Clinton World
John Wight
Who Will Save Us From America?
Pepe Escobar
Afghanistan; It’s the Heroin, Stupid
W. T. Whitney
When Women’s Lives Don’t Matter
Julian Vigo
“Ooops, I Did It Again”: How the BBC Funnels Stories for Financial Gain
Howard Lisnoff
What was Missing From The Nation’s Interview with Bernie Sanders
Jeremy Brecher
Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor
Binoy Kampmark
Pictures Left Incomplete: MH17 and the Joint Investigation Team
Andrew Kahn
Nader Gave Us Bush? Hillary Could Give Us Trump
Steve Horn
Obama Weakens Endangered Species Act
Dave Lindorff
US Propaganda Campaign to Demonize Russia in Full Gear over One-Sided Dutch/Aussie Report on Flight 17 Downing
John W. Whitehead
Uncomfortable Truths You Won’t Hear From the Presidential Candidates
Ramzy Baroud
Shimon Peres: Israel’s Nuclear Man
Brandon Jordan
The Battle for Mercosur
Murray Dobbin
A Globalization Wake-Up Call
Jesse Ventura
Corrupted Science: the DEA and Marijuana
Richard W. Behan
Installing a President by Force: Hillary Clinton and Our Moribund Democracy
Andrew Stewart
The Democratic Plot to Privatize Social Security
Daniel Borgstrom
On the Streets of Oakland, Expressing Solidarity with Charlotte
Marjorie Cohn
President Obama: ‘Patron’ of the Israeli Occupation
Norman Pollack
The “Self-Hating” Jew: A Critique
David Rosen
The Living Body & the Ecological Crisis
Joseph Natoli
Thoughtcrimes and Stupidspeak: Our Assault Against Words
Ron Jacobs
A Cycle of Death Underscored by Greed and a Lust for Power
Uri Avnery
Abu Mazen’s Balance Sheet
Kim Nicolini
Long Drive Home
Louisa Willcox
Tribes Make History with Signing of Grizzly Bear Treaty
Art Martin
The Matrix Around the Next Bend: Facebook, Augmented Reality and the Podification of the Populace
Andre Vltchek
Failures of the Western Left
Ishmael Reed
Millennialism or Extinctionism?
Frances Madeson
Why It’s Time to Create a Cabinet-Level Dept. of Native Affairs
Laura Finley
Presidential Debate Recommendations
José Negroni
Mass Firings on Broadway Lead Singers to Push Back
Leticia Cortez
Entering the Historical Dissonance Surrounding Desafinados
Robert J. Burrowes
Gandhi: ‘My Life is My Message’
Charles R. Larson
Queen Lear? Deborah Levy’s “Hot Milk”
David Yearsley
Bring on the Nibelungen: If Wagner Scored the Debates
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]