Saturday, April 4, 2009

G20 bets $1 trillion that the world can be saved

By Sumeet Desai [Reuters]

The $1 trillion (R9.5 trillion) Group of 20 (G20) package to save the world economy should help boost fragile consumer and business confidence and avoid contagion, but is no silver bullet to end the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. 

Expectations had been low for the G20 summit in London after leaked draft communiques offered little more than the usual rhetoric on doing whatever it takes to fight the recession, amid public bickering over what that could entail. 

True, there was no pledge of extra cash directly to boost economies, but the $1 trillion figure on new funding, mainly through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), helped send stocks sharply higher. 

It raises the fund's kitty to help countries by $500 billion and adds $250 billion to the IMF's special drawing rights - in essence, printing money to help countries in need. 

The leaders agreed a $250 billion package to boost world trade, which is set to shrink this year for the first time since 1982. 

The extra IMF money is probably the most significant, as it should lower the risk factor associated with emerging markets and thus reduce the chances of trouble spreading back to the rich world. 

Officials privately say the IMF probably does not need such a huge boost to its crisis-busting firepower, but the idea is that the big number creates "shock and awe" for markets.

They will then have confidence that no country is about to go bust because even the IMF cannot bail it out. 

The trade guarantees should help get global commerce moving again by instilling confidence, at little cost to public purses. This was much higher than the $100 billion UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown initially said he was hoping for. 

While all this should at least stop the crisis worsening into a depression, it may not stop most major economies shrinking rapidly this year. 

The key problem of getting banks lending will not go away until financial institutions can find ways to clear their balance sheets of toxic assets. 

The communique says it all: "Our actions to restore growth cannot be effective until we restore domestic lending and international capital flows." 

For now, the jury's out on how long this will take, despite the huge bailouts and toxic asset buyouts by governments. 

The G20 meeting was never going to be able to solve everything, although it was originally meant to provide a whole new architecture for the financial world in terms of regulation and future crises. That was before the economy sank even further, giving the US and UK grounds to thrust the focus on to getting economies growing again.