Sending the Financial World to Save Eastern Europe

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Bogdan Cristel/Reuters

A woman walks past a shop window with discount signs in Bucharest, Romania

It has begun to occur to the financial industry and the central banks of the G7 and a number of smaller Western European countries that if some of the nations in Eastern Europe default on their debt, the world may look as it did three decades ago when several Latin American nations struggled to make payments on their sovereign obligations. (See pictures of printing money in Germany.)

The Latin America crisis nearly took Citibank under.

The mobilization to bail out Eastern Europe has begun in earnest. According to MarketWatch, "The World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank issued a joint pledge Friday to provide up to 24.5 billion euros ($31.2 billion) in aid to support Eastern Europe's bank sector." That is almost certainly only the beginning of the process.

As ratings agencies begin to downgrade the debt of several Eastern European nations, the concern has emerged that Ukraine, Lithuania, and Romania may have trouble with that debt obligations. The IMF says it is not worried about defaults, but it does not hold large amounts of the notes issued by these countries to fund their budgets, which have begun to post substantial deficits.

The U.S. government is in the process of "stress testing" banks by making assumptions that the American economy could collapse and that unemployment could move to 10% with housing prices could fall another 20%. None of that "testing" take into account what happens if the financial status of Eastern Europe worsens. Maybe that should go on the check list to determine which banks are healthy. The answer would probably be "none." The financial world is too small for defaults on national debt not to have a tremendous ripple effect.

Douglas A. McIntyre

Read a TIME story about the crisis in Eastern Europe.

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