‘Gripped by panic’

Investor panic showed little signs of easing Friday even as policymakers vowed to take coordinated action to help stabilise the world’s shaky financial markets.

A pledge Friday by finance ministers from the Group of 20 leading economies to “take all necessary actions” to stabilise the world’s banking system and financial markets did little to reassure investors, pushing stock, gold and commodities prices sharply down over the week.

Asian markets closed sharply lower, led by a whopping 5.7 per cent decline in South Korea’s Kospi index.

The Stock Exchange of Thailand index fell over 32 points or 3.27 per cent Friday to close at 958.16 points, its lowest level since February. Over the past week, the SET has lost over 7 per cent in value, losing hundreds of billions of baht in market value.

European stocks Friday also traded lower, although speculation that global central banks will take new action to prevent a financial crisis helped curb losses.

Worries about slowing global economic growth, lacklustre political leadership and a burgeoning public debt crisis in Europe has led investors across the globe to exit stocks in favour of cash or US government bonds.

The markets are gripped by panic following warnings by global financial leaders of a potential new crisis, said Kittiratt Na-Ranong, the deputy prime minister and commerce minister.

Mr Kittiratt, a former president of the Stock Exchange of Thailand, said the country has to strengthen the domestic economy and reduce its dependence on exports given global economic uncertainties.

Exports to the US and Europe now accounted for just 10 per cent of exports, with shipments increasingly going to China, Asean and the rest of Asia.

“I think there’s a good chance that stock markets will stabilise next week.

But it’s hard to expect the government to do anything about the crisis, given we are just a small economy,” Mr Kittiratt said.

Worries that Greece could default on its debt payments continues to be the main concern. Credit agency Moody’s downgraded ratings for eight Greek banks Friday as the country remains firmly in recession despite hundreds of billions of euro in aid by European nations.

A Greek debt default could have a knock-on effect across the European financial system, as losses would affect bank balance sheets and further rattle already skittish markets.

European policy-makers have acknowledged that a default could come within weeks if it fails to receive additional aid from a bailout fund managed by the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank.

Policy-makers representing the G20 economies sought to reassure markets Friday, with the finance officials of countries including the US, Japan, Germany, China and India pledging to take “strong actions to maintain financial stability, restore confidence and support growth”.

“We commit to take all actions to preserve the stability of banking systems and financial markets as required,” the G20 joint statement said. Members met in Washington Friday ahead of the annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank, where discussions about the European debt crisis will take centre stage.

But recent economic data gave little reason for optimism, with slowdowns already seen in Europe, the US and Asia. Investors are also sceptical that political leadership exists to address the global problems.

“I think many in the markets are no longer reassured by platitudes, we want to see action and not just words,” Louise Cooper, an analyst with BGC Partners, said. “G20 finance ministers passed up a golden opportunity to soothe the markets as talk of tackling the financial crises fell short of any decisive action.” (With Agencies)

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