Tag: US debt

Friday 5 August 2011 saw the end of a very bad fortnight for stock markets around the world. In Japan the Nikkei 225 had fallen by 8.2%, in the USA the Dow Jones had fallen by 9.8%, in the UK the FTSE 100 was down 11.6% and in Germany the Dax was down 14.9%. In the first five days of August alone, £148 billion had been wiped off the value of the shares of the FTSE 100 companies and $2.5 trillion off the value of shares worldwide.

But why had this happened and what are likely to be the consequences?

The falls have been caused by the growing concerns of investors about the health of the global economy and the global financial system. There are worries that the European leaders at their summit on 21 July did not do enough to prevent the default of large countries such as Spain and Italy. There are concerns that the US political system, following the squabbling in Congress over raising the sovereign debt ceiling for the country, may not be up to dealing with the country’s huge debts. Indeed, the rating agency, Standard & Poor’s, downgraded the USA’s credit rating from AAA to AA+. This is the first time that the USA has not had top rating.

Then there are worries about the general slowing down of the world economy and how this will compound the problem of sovereign debt as it hits tax revenues and makes it harder to reduce social security payments. Underlying all this is the fear that the problem of indebtedness that contributed to the banking crisis of 2007/8 has not gone away; it has simply been transferred from banks to governments. As Robert Peston states in his article, linked to below:

The overall volume of indebtedness in the economy is therefore still with us – although it has been shuffled from financial sector to public sector.

And if you took the view four years ago that the quantum of debt in the system was unsustainably large, then you would argue that by propping up the banks, the day of reckoning was being postponed, not cancelled.

… just like the awakening in 2007 to the idea that many of the housing loans and associated financial products were worthless, so there is a growing fear that a number of financially overstretched governments, especially in the eurozone, will not be able to repay their debts in full.

Which brings us to the consequences. Key to the answer is confidence. If governments can reassure markets over the coming days and weeks that they have credible policies to support highly indebted countries in the short term and to sustain demand in the global economy (e.g. through further quantitative easing in the USA (QE3)); and if they can also reassure markets that they have tough and credible policies to reduce their debts over the longer term, then confidence may return. But it will not be an easy task to get the balance right between sustaining recovery in the short term and fiscal retrenchment over the long term. Meanwhile consumers are likely to become even more cautious about spending – hardly the recipe for recovery.

Markets turmoil: What you need to know BBC News, Jonty Bloom (5/8/11)
Turmoil on stock markets persists as share prices fall BBC News, Robert Peston (5/8/11)
Global stock market crash – video analysis Guardian, Larry Elliott and Cameron Robertson (5/8/11)
S&P downgrade US AAA credit rating BBC News, Marcus George (6/8/11)
U.S. loses AAA credit rating Reuters, Paul Chapman (6/8/11)
U.S. loses AAA credit rating from S&P CNN (5/8/11)
US loses AAA rating ITN (6/8/11)
Shares slump amid euro fears Channel 4 News, Faisal Islam (4/8/11)
What triggered the turmoil? Financial Times, Sarah O’Connor and Edward Hadas (5/8/11)
Fears eurozone woes will spread BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (5/8/11)

FTSE 100 tumbles in worst week since height of the crisis The Telegraph, Richard Blackden (5/8/11)
Global recession fears as stock markets tumble to nine-month low The Telegraph, Alistair Osborne (3/8/11)
Global markets on the brink of crisis Guardian, Larry Elliott (5/8/11)
A week of financial turmoil: interactive Guardian, Nick Fletcher, Paddy Allen and James Ball (5/8/11)
Turmoil on stock markets persists BBC News (5/8/11)
Bank worries bring echoes of 2008 BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (5/8/11)
The origins of today’s market mayhem BBC News, Robert Peston (5/8/11)
Time for a double dip? The Economist (6/8/11)
Rearranging the deckchairs The Economist (6/8/11)
High hopes, low returns The Economist (4/8/11)
The debt-ceiling deal: No thanks to anyone The Economist (6/8/11)
Six years into a lost decade The Economist (6/8/11)
Debt crisis Q&A: what you need to know about Standard & Poor’s credit rating The Telegraph, Richard Tyler (6/8/11)
U.S. Will Roll Out QE3 After S&P Rating Cut, Li Daokui Says Bloomberg (6/8/11)
China flays U.S. over credit rating downgrade Reuters, Walter Brandimarte and Gavin Jones (6/8/11)
US credit rating downgraded to AA+ by Standard & Poor’s Guardian, Larry Elliott, Jill Treanor and Dominic Rushe (5/8/11)
Reaction to the US credit rating downgrade Guardian (6/8/11)
Market turmoil and the economics of self-harm Guardian, Mark Weisbrot (5/8/11)
Week ahead: Markets will sort through credit downgrade Moneycontrol (6/8/11)

S&P Statement
S&P statement on lowering US long-term debt to AA+ Guardian (6/8/11)

Stock market indices
FTSE 100: historical prices, 1984 to current day Yahoo Finance
Dow Jones Industrial Average: historical prices, 1928 to current day Yahoo Finance
Nikkei 225 (Japan): historical prices, 1984 to current day Yahoo Finance
DAX (Germany): historical prices, 1990 to current day Yahoo Finance
CAC 40 (France): historical prices, 1990 to current day Yahoo Finance
Hang Seng (Hong Kong): historical prices, 1986 to current day Yahoo Finance
SSE Composite (China: Shanghai): historical prices, 2000 to current day Yahoo Finance
BSE Sensex (India): historical prices, 1997 to current day Yahoo Finance
Stock markets BBC


  1. Why have share prices been falling?
  2. Does the fall reflect ‘rational’ behaviour on the part of investors? Explain.
  3. Why does ‘overshooting’ sometimes occur in share price movements?
  4. Why has the USA’s credit rating been downgraded by Standard & Poor’s? What are the likely implications for the USA and the global economy of this downgrading?
  5. How is the downgrading likely to affect the return on (a) existing US government bonds; (b) new US government bonds?
  6. Why might worries about the strength of the global recovery jeopardise that recovery?
  7. To what extent has the debt problem simply been transferred from banks to governments? What should governments do about it in the short term?