Outlook: Emerging trend in market fall-out

RICHARD NIXON once gave a four-letter response to an Italian currency crisis. President Clinton was probably too embroiled yesterday in domestic woes and foreign adventures to pay much heed to the plight of the Venezuelan bolivar.

But, world financial centres were certainly transfixed by the upheaval, not just in Caracas but in emerging markets across the globe. Whether it was the delayed effect from the US missile strikes or the deepening crisis in Russia, who can say.

Whatever the trigger, the results were quite spectacular. The Mexican peso plunged, taking the stock market with it. The ripple effects spread across Latin America, leaving the Colombian peso at an all-time low and causing mayhem from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro. Argentine stocks slumped 7 per cent. In Brazil the stock market samba came to a complete halt.

It was a similar tale in eastern Europe. The Polish zloty went on the zlide and even currencies no-one has heard of had their 15 minutes of fame. In Bulgaria, the lev was in trouble, in Romania it was the leu.

And, of course, London and Wall Street felt the full force. The Footsie suffered its biggest one-day point fall since 1987, even though the level of trading was thin.

In a week when London has also staged its biggest one-day gain since the crash, it would be rash to attempt to call the market.

However, there does appear to be worrying trend developing. Individually, the emerging markets are not significant to the West. But collectively, they add up to a significant trading partner. What is worse, the emerging markets may decide that their troubles lies at the door of Western-style globalisation. That could provoke a political and social backlash, and an economic fall-out in the shape of controls on capital and trade.

This may all yet be too apocalyptic, but the warnings signs are there. It may still be too early to call Wall Street and London. But some sectors look a poor bet. Right now the banking sector with its exposure to emerging market debt and loan portfolios does not look the place to be.

sibly falling to another generator and Midlands Electricity seeking a merger with another regional electricity company (REC), there is scope for every variant of integration imaginable.

In his previous incarnations (Kleinwort Benson and then BZW), Mr McCarthy had a hand in shaping the structure that we see now. It was a deeply flawed model, driven largely by the previous administration's privatisation timetable. The decision to leave the generating market in the hands of the National Power-PowerGen duopoly is largely responsible for the near extinction of the coal industry. The decision to allow the RECs to sit on their local monopolies for eight years has produced some of the worst examples of profiteering and fat cattery yet witnessed.

With the break-up of the generators and competition in supply likely to mean a wave of consolidation among the Recs, the scope is there to reassemble the industry around a group of competing, vertically-integrated players. Second time around, Mr McCarthy has the chance to get it right.

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