Financial Crisis Cost Moves Toward $25 Trillion

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No one with an abacus, a calculator, or a mainframe will ever know what the global credit crisis has cost in real money. Lost jobs means lost tax revenue. Lost bank capital means a drop in share values. Government aid must be near $1.5 trillion when the US’s $700 billion is added to what all other nations have put in to shore up banks.

The Bank of England reckons the cost of the near-collapse of the financial system is $2.8 trillion. It does not say precisely how it came up with that figure, but in the guessing game that hardly matters.

Looking at the issue from a simpleton’s perspective, Citigroup (C) has lost $200 billion of is market cap. The number for Wachovia (WB) is more like $100 billion. The loses to Lehman and WaMu shareholders are of a similar magnitude.  By these calculations, investors in US financial companies have seen well in excess of $1 trillion go down the drain. Lost jobs are certainly worth hundreds of millions in tax revenue. Most of these out-of-work investment bankers were rich.

The fallen value of hedge funds cannot be tracked, but some of the larger ones such as Citadel are down by several billion. Investors in these firms may never see most of that money back.

The fallen value of real estate due to lack of a real mortgage rescue program must be well into the trillions of dollars, especially if that pool includes housing and commercial real estate worldwide. More liquidity would not have saved the real estate market, but it might have arrested its rapid decline. Banks getting capital from the US government are not lending that out again, defeating much of the purpose.

The Bank of England’s figure is probably a multiple of ten times too low. A figure around $25 trillion would be more accurate.

Douglas A. McIntyre

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