Foreign Stock Exchanges Follow Dow Down

One day after Wall Street's massive fall, the Dow Industrials opened strong Tuesday morning. The Nasdaq also was up. The reaction to the failed U.S. economic bailout plan around the rest of the world was mixed.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

OK, how about if we check the fallout from the markets and things look very different today than they did yesterday. This happens so often after a big stock market drop, things begin to recover the next day even if they don't come all the way back. And right now, moments ago anyway, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had risen well over 200 points. The Nasdaq is also up and the reaction to the failed bailout plan around the rest of the world can best be described as mixed. NPR's Frank Langfitt is here to try to make sense of it all. Frank, good morning once again.

FRANK LANGFITT: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Why is Wall Street so much cheerier today?

LANGFITT: Well, this may signal more hope that there actually will be a bailout plan by the end of the week. President Bush came on television this morning saying Congress must act. Both presidential candidates, Senators Obama and McCain have been urging the same thing. You know, as Debbie was mentioning this package - its $700 billion and there's huge anger because of the size of it. One of the things the president said this morning, he reminded people that in yesterday's stock market plunge, it cost the nation even more in total - about a trillion dollars in market value was lost.

INSKEEP: Well then, let's be frank. A lot of that's theoretical value. Most people didn't sell their stocks, didn't lose anything, but...

LANGFITT: Indeed, it is all on paper.

INSKEEP: But still, a huge loss in one day and some of it has now been recovered today. Overseas, markets also were very nervous overnight before they stabilized and maybe the most dramatic example was Russia. What happened there?

LANGFITT: Well, they suspended trading. What happened is a few seconds after the market opened, stocks just plunged an average of about 10 percent and regulators just shut it down. And what's going on in Russia isn't actually about the global financial crisis directly, it's really about oil. After the vote in the House yesterday, oil fell by about $10 and the fear is that the U.S. is heading into a recession, maybe a really deep one. There'll be reduced demand for oil and the price will fall. Well, for Russia, this is really bad because fiscally while the country is in good shape now, oil drives that country's economy. I spoke with Chris Weafer. He's an analyst with UralSib, it's an investment bank in Moscow. And here's what he said this morning.

Mr. CHRIS WEAFER (Analyst, UralSib): We're still very highly dependent on the oil and gas revenues - more than 50 percent of the federal budget revenues come from oil and gas taxes.

LANGFITT: So if the price of oil continues to fall, it could really undermine Russia's economic model, but as we said, things happen really fast. This morning, oil began to come back.

INSKEEP: Oil comes back as soon as the economy looks a tiny bit better. We get a sense of how Russia is connected to our economy. Of course, Asian markets are even more closely tied to the United States. How were have they responded in the last 24 hours?

LANGFITT: Well, the Nikkei was down more than 4%, Hong Kong and South Korea were down as well, but rebounded. The good news actually is the Chinese are on vacation this week. It's the anniversary of the People's Republic of China, the founding. They are hopefully traveling the country and not paying too much attention to this.

INSKEEP: And let's get one more response from around the world. President Bush turns out not to be the only leader around the world calling for the U.S. Congress to do something. We heard this from Kevin Rudd who is the prime minister of Australia.

Mr. KEVIN RUDD (Prime Minister, Australia): We would call together with other friends and allies in the United States, on all parties in the U.S. Congress to put aside partisan differences. This is too big for the global economy and global financial markets to simply be captured by party politics.

INSKEEP: It does raise the question, Frank Langfitt, about whether other governments are also trying to pony up and try to save the financial markets here.

LANGFITT: Well, it will be very interesting to see what people say over the next day or two as they look at the House vote and of course, they feel like they have a real stake in this as well even though of course, they don't have Congressional representatives. They're very concerned about what the U.S. does about this.

INSKEEP: Which is something that you've learned, I guess, as you've travelled around the world.

LANGFITT: Absolutely, I spent August in - I was back in Beijing for the Olympics and spent a lot of time with some old Chinese friends. And I'll give you an example. I went to one party out in the suburbs at a friend's house and one of the first questions I was asked is what's happening with the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States, are the housing prices hitting bottom? There's another concern...

INSKEEP: How do you translate in Chinese, by the way, subprime mortgage crisis? Were they easily able to translate that or get their words for that?

LANGFITT: They're able to talk about the housing crisis and along those lines so, I'm able to follow, but there's a real concern that what's happening here is affecting economies really around the world. We consume a lot and a place like China is concerned about their exports.

INSKEEP: Frank, thanks very much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt is giving the latest on the world markets again. The Tokyo's Nikkei stock average dropped sharply but other Asian stock indexes actually regained value. European stocks ended up OK and the latest news we have from Wall Street is that the Dow Jones Industrial Average has gained this morning, not nearly as much as it lost but a couple hundred points.

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Europe Acts To Stave Off Financial Collapse

While the U.S. faces a market meltdown as Congress attempted to pass a $700 billion bailout plan — and failed — Europe is engaged in its own bank rescue bailouts.

The governments of Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg rescued financial firm Fortis over the weekend with $16 billion to prevent a dominolike spread of failure after no serious commercial bidder could be found.

And Britain nationalized troubled mortgage lender Bradford & Bingley. With that move, every single one of the country's "building societies," or smaller regional banks, has now been taken over either by the government or another big traditional bank.

The only cries louder than those of the shareholders who have lost everything are the sounds of the analysts shouting: "I told you so."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown sought to soothe troubles nerves by reiterating that his government will stand as the bank of last resort.

"The first economic duty of government is the stability of the system, and I have said, 'We will do whatever it takes to ensure the stability of the British financial system,' " Brown said.

The History Of Building Societies

At one time in Britain — as in so many places — the building societies helped people buy a house.

Like the old savings and loans in the U.S., they existed on a quaint old-fashioned idea, whereby for every pound of sterling of hard-earned savings deposited with them, they would lend out one pound sterling, and make a profit on charging more to their borrowers than they offered to their savers.

Then, in the go-go days of the '80s and '90s, fast-money men came along and said the quaint old-fashioned building societies should become banks, and then they'll be able to raise money on international capital markets. And so they did.

"It was clear they would expand their balance sheet fast, which took place," said Will Hutton, a columnist for The Guardian. "It was clear they'd be so hungry for short-term profit that they'd make mistakes. It was clear they'd get taken over, and we'd lose our regional financial system. And it's happened."

Contagion Spread To Europe

All of this came just as the contagion spread to continental Europe with the news that banking and insurance giant Fortis will also be partially nationalized.

Fortis' Chief Executive Filip Dierckx said rumors and speculation were partly to blame, but he did admit the bank had overreached itself.

"But I'm also not going to deny that if you look at some of the decisions, which were taken in the past, then you can say that probably they were done at the wrong moment. That the timing was not correct," Dierckx said.

Elsewhere in Europe, Germany's No. 2 commercial property lender became the first German blue chip company to seek a bailout from the government. The government in Iceland said it has taken control of that country's third-largest bank.

Not All Doom And Gloom

But on Monday, on the streets of the financial district in London, known as the Square Mile, it wasn't all doom and gloom.

City workers Sergio Baratesta and Tom Hodges even suggested that the worst may have have passed.

"I don't think it will get any worse," Baratesta said. "I think we got to the bottom at the moment. It cannot get worse. It's looking like its going to be tough — hard to recover — but I think it is going to get better, from now on."

Hodges said he thinks people are getting used to not borrowing and spending as they used to.

Perhaps banks are even returning to some of those quaint, old-fashioned concepts of banking.

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