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BERLIN: The leaders of Germany, Britain, France and other European nations called Sunday for the resources of the International Monetary Fund to double, to $500 billion, to help head off new problems in countries already hit hard by the global economic and financial crisis.
Eyeing a contagion that is rapidly spreading to eastern Europe and even countries that use the euro, the leaders highlighted the crisis-prevention role of the IMF, an institution whose relevance to the current global economy seemed in doubt only a few years ago.
"The Germans are now in the position to say 'I'll rescue you, but you better follow the rules,' " Gros said. "We are at the beginning of a new game."
European leaders in Berlin also directed their finance ministers to study the creation of a common bond issue among the 16 countries that use the euro, a move that would partially extend Germany's sterling credit rating to its shakier neighbors.
"A failure rate of 10pc would lead to the collapse of the Austrian financial sector," reported Der Standard in Vienna. Unfortunately, that is about to happen.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) says bad debts will top 10pc and may reach 20pc. The Vienna press said Bank Austria and its Italian owner Unicredit face a "monetary Stalingrad" in the East.
Almost all East bloc debts are owed to West Europe, especially Austrian, Swedish, Greek, Italian, and Belgian banks. En plus, Europeans account for an astonishing 74pc of the entire $4.9 trillion portfolio of loans to emerging markets.
They are five times more exposed to this latest bust than American or Japanese banks, and they are 50pc more leveraged (IMF data).
Whether it takes months, or just weeks, the world is going to discover that Europe's financial system is sunk, and that there is no EU Federal Reserve yet ready to act as a lender of last resort or to flood the markets with emergency stimulus.
The sums needed are beyond the limits of the IMF, which has already bailed out Hungary, Ukraine, Latvia, Belarus, Iceland, and Pakistan – and Turkey next – and is fast exhausting its own $200bn (€155bn) reserve. We are nearing the point where the IMF may have to print money for the world, using arcane powers to issue Special Drawing Rights.
Europe is already in deeper trouble than the ECB or EU leaders ever expected. Germany contracted at an annual rate of 8.4pc in the fourth quarter.
If Deutsche Bank is correct, the economy will have shrunk by nearly 9pc before the end of this year. This is the sort of level that stokes popular revolt.
The implications are obvious. Berlin is not going to rescue Ireland, Spain, Greece and Portugal as the collapse of their credit bubbles leads to rising defaults, or rescue Italy by accepting plans for EU "union bonds" should the debt markets take fright at the rocketing trajectory of Italy's public debt (hitting 112pc of GDP next year, just revised up from 101pc – big change), or rescue Austria from its Habsburg adventurism.
So we watch and wait as the lethal brush fires move closer.
If one spark jumps across the eurozone line, we will have global systemic crisis within days. Are the firemen ready?