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"A Generalized Meltdown of Financial Institutions"

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Take a Look at Professor Roubini's Crystal Ball

Reality has finally caught up to the stock market. The American consumer is underwater, the banks are buried in dept, and the housing market is in terminal distress. The Dow is now below its 200-Day Moving Average -- the first big "sell" signal. Anything below 12,500 could trigger program-trading and crash the market. The increased volatility suggests that we are watching a "real time" meltdown.

International Business editor for the UK Telegraph, Ambrose Evans Pritchard, summed up yesterday's action in the Asian markets:

"The global credit crisis has hit Asia with a vengeance for the first time, triggering a massive flight to safety as investors across the region pull out of risky assets. Yields on three-month deposits in China and Korea have plummeted to near 1pc in a spectacular fall over recent days, caused by panic withdrawals from money market funds and credit derivatives.

"'This' is a severe warning sign,' said Hans Redeker, currency chief at BNP Paribas. 'Asia ignored the credit crunch in August but now we're seeing the poison beginning to paralyze the whole global economy.'" (Credit 'Heart attack' engulfs China and Korea" Ambrose Evans Pritchard,UK Telegraph,)

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The credit storm that began in the United States with subprime mortgages has spread to markets across the globe. In fact, the train has already crashed. What we're seeing now is the boxcars piling up on top of each other.

On Tuesday Chinese government officials ordered a complete halt to bank lending to slow the speculative frenzy that has created an enormous equity bubble in the stock market. According to the Wall Street Journal:

"Chinese authorities are slamming the brakes on bank lending, in their latest attempt to curb the runaway investment threatening to overheat what is soon to be the world's third-largest economy. In recent weeks, regulators have quietly ordered China's commercial banks to freeze lending through the end of the year, according to bankers in several cities. The bankers say that to comply, they are canceling loans and credit lines with businesses and individuals." ("China freezes lending to Curb Investing Frenzy" Wall Street Journal)

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The move illustrates how concerned the Chinese are that a slowdown in US consumer spending will trigger a crash on the Shanghai stock market. It also shows that the Chinese are having difficulty dealing with the inflation generated by the hundreds of billions of US dollars absorbed via the trade imbalance with the US. China is awash in USDs and that surplus is causing a steady rise in food and energy costs. This could be mitigated by allowing their currency to "float" freely. But a sudden, steep increase in the Chinese yuan's value could also send the world headlong into a global recession. For now, the lending freeze and price fixing appear to be the way out.

Another sign that the markets have reached a "tipping point" appeared in a Reuters article on Wednesday; "Interbank Covered Bond Trading Halted on Volatility":

"Renewed credit turmoil and volatility led the European Covered Bond Council (ECBC) on Wednesday to suspend inter-bank market-making in covered bonds until Monday, Nov. 26.

The move is a sign of the stress in the covered bond market, which is dominated by German institutions that have almost a trillion euros of covered bonds outstanding.

Covered bonds -- backed by pools of assets that remain on the borrower's balance sheet -- are usually highly liquid and typically rated triple-A by ratings agencies. The ECBC's recommendation is aimed at relieving the pressure on market makers who are forced to quote prices at a fixed bid-offer spread.

"In light of the current market situation and in order to avoid undue over-acceleration in the widening of spreads, the 8-to-8 Market-Makers & Issuers Committee recommends that inter-bank market-making be suspended," the ECBC said in a release."

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Note: This isn't mortgage-backed junk that's being sold, but highly liquid bonds that are usually easy to cash in. The ECBC's action is a sign of pure desperation and indicates that credit paralysis has infected the entire euro banking system.

Reuters: "Due to general market conditions and the specific mechanics of the inter-dealer market making it even seems possible that inter-dealer market making will not be resumed this year."

That's bad. The mechanism for converting covered bonds into cash has broken down.

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Mike is a freelance writer living in Washington state.

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