21. veljače 2009
U posljednjih tjedan dana došlo je do prave navale vijesti o ekonomijama i valutama Istočne Europe. Sve priče se vrte oko bojazni za veliku zaduženost tih zemalja, pogotovo u stranim valutama, te usporavanja ekonomskog rasta što će samo otežati otplatu dugova. U isto vrijeme, deprecijacije valuta diljem Istočne europe bi mogle povećati tu zaduženost. Kod nas još kolaju ideje da će deprecijacija omogućiti rast kroz nekakav čarobni izvoz u ovo doba. Ovo je samo posljednja vijest u nizu.
Latvia’s Government Is the Latest in Europe to Fail
Nation’s Latest Turmoil Over Economy, Following Leadership Collapses in Belgium and Iceland, Sparks New Fears of Contagion
By ALAN CULLISON
Latvia’s prime minister and cabinet resigned Friday, making it the third European government, after Iceland and Belgium, to be toppled by the economic crisis.
The fall of the Baltic country’s center-right coalition government — following weeks of political instability as the Latvian economy nosedives after years of strong growth — deepens worries that eastern Europe’s economic problems could send fresh shockwaves to its neighbors in the west.
Latvian President Valdis Zatlers called for talks to patch together a new government, after accepting the resignation of Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis, in office since December 2007. He stepped down after the two largest parties in the ruling coalition said they had lost confidence in him.
Analysts say the political turmoil likely spells trouble for a €7.5 billion ($9.5 billion) International Monetary Fund loan program Latvia agreed to last year, which has helped underpin Latvia’s currency, the lat.
The government collapse could scuttle an unpopular austerity program that Latvia agreed to in order to avoid a currency devaluation. In January, social and political tensions exploded into some of the worst rioting since the collapse of the Soviet Union on 1991.
Any devaluation of the lat would likely have a knock-on effect elsewhere in the Baltics and in Scandinavia, whose banks were big lenders to Latvia and other Baltic states in the form of euro-denominated loans.
The turmoil in Latvia comes amid fears that weakening currencies in Eastern Europe could cause new defaults with western banks, and worsen the economic spiral in Europe. Shares of Scandinavian banks sank on news of the government resignation Friday, as did the value of the Swedish currency, the kronor.
Latvia’s news comes after the economic crisis also claimed the governments of Belgium and Iceland. In late January, Iceland’s leadership resigned after virtually the nation’s entire banking system collapsed and the island’s currency went into free fall.
On Friday came new data that the contraction in Europe is accelerating. A major purchasing managers index measuring private-sector activity in the euro zone hit a record low in January, the Markit Economics research firm said.
The data coincided with another report showing French business confidence in January at its lowest ebb since sentiment was first gauged in 1976.
European Union finance ministers are planning to discuss the Eastern European banking sector and “possible coordinated action” on Sunday at a summit of EU leaders of the Group of 20 nations in Berlin, a senior German finance ministry official said Friday.
He added that this coordination would include the World Bank, European Investment Bank and European Bank of Reconstruction and Development. Increasing funds from the IMF would also be an option, he said, as the organization has around $200 billion at its disposal for bailout efforts and is seeking to more than double that.
Analysts have warned that Latvia is a particularly weak link in East Europe’s financial system because of an overvalued currency and large private sector debt denominated in euros.
The government last year turned to the IMF and a consortium of European countries for its loan to cover a ballooning current-account deficit. As part of the agreement, Latvia decided to resist a devaluation and launch an austerity program.
The economy’s decline has accelerated under the plan, with output falling more than 10% in the fourth quarter of 2008 from the previous year, meeting a common yardstick for a depression. On Wednesday the Finance Ministry predicted that gross domestic product would fall 12% this year.
Latvia’s president had pressured the government to cut back on the number of ministries to win back public trust. But the coalition of four ruling parties had been unable to reach a consensus.
If Latvia devalues its currency, Lithuania and Estonia, whose economies are closely entwined with Latvia’s, would likely follow suit.
—Andrea Thomas and Paul Hannon contributed to this article.
Write to Alan Cullison at email@example.com