x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

The continuing crisis

The global financial crisis is five years old, and unfortunately it's growing up big and strong.

On August 9, 2007 - five years ago today - BNP Paribas froze three investment funds. With credit problems in the US drying up liquidity, the bank admitted having no reliable way to evaluate the funds' holdings of collateralised debt obligations (CDOs).

Since that day - now considered the first acknowledgement of the global credit squeeze and property slump - we have all learnt far too much about CDOs, the US subprime mortgages they held, other arcana of high finance and what happens when markets lose confidence.

Since then the crisis has mutated, like a menacing germ in a science-fiction movie. So has our financial vocabulary: we hear little any more about CDOs or subprimes, but are bombarded with alarms about a Grexit, debt mutualisation and of course austerity.

The world's bankers and policymakers have responded with a wearying series of crisis meetings producing repeated quick fixes, mere symptomatic treatment at successive pressure points.

There is still little sign of the sweeping transnational reforms needed to limit the self-serving ingenuity of traders and to reduce the global burden of sovereign debt. And without those changes, it is a safe bet that five years from now we will all be marking not the birth of a sounder system, but only the tenth birthday of a continuing crisis.