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Thu, May 30, 2002 - Page 21 News List

Argentine credit crunch may spread: World Bank


European banks, stung by Argentina's economic collapse, are cutting back loans to other Latin American nations, indicating the lenders' skittishness over Argentina may be spreading in the region, the World Bank said.

A curb in lending by banks such as Santander Central Hispano SA, Spain's largest, raises the risk that countries such as Brazil and Chile may experience "a violent shift" similar to 1997, when Japanese banks helped spread Thailand's troubles to Malaysia and South Korea by cutting off loans, a World Bank report said.

"The Argentine crisis is going to permanently change banks' outlook toward emerging-market economies," said Christian Stracke, the head of emerging-markets fixed-income research at Creditsights Inc, a credit research firm in New York.

The bank's analysis is the first to officially find signs of contagion from Argentina since the nation's December default on US$141 billion in debt.

The US Treasury and IMF have said only Uruguay has been hurt in the fallout.

The spread of Argentina's problems may make it more difficult for the US and IMF to continue to withhold aid as Argentina struggles to make policy changes the fund has demanded.

Excluding Argentina, global bank lending to emerging-market economies for the first three months of this year is less than half that of the 2001 average, the World Bank said. European banks such as Credit Agricole SA, France's second largest, account for half those loans.

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