The credit crunch
The global financial crisis (GFC) or global economic crisis is commonly believed to have begun in July 2007 with the credit crunch, when a loss of confidence by US investors in the value of sub-prime mortgages caused a liquidity crisis. This, in turn, resulted in the US Federal Bank injecting a large amount of capital into financial markets. By September 2008, the crisis had worsened as stock markets around the globe crashed and became highly volatile. Consumer confidence hit rock bottom as everyone tightened their belts in fear of what could lie ahead.
The sub-prime crisis and housing bubble
The housing market in the United States suffered greatly as many home owners who had taken out sub-prime loans found they were unable to meet their mortgage repayments. As the value of homes plummeted, the borrowers found themselves with negative equity. With a large number of borrowers defaulting on loans, banks were faced with a situation where the repossessed house and land was worth less on today’s market than the bank had loaned out originally. The banks had a liquidity crisis on their hands, and giving and obtaining loans became increasingly difficult as the fallout from the sub-prime lending bubble burst. This is commonly referred to as the credit crunch.
Although the housing collapse in the United States is commonly referred to as the trigger for the global financial crisis, some experts who have examined the events over the past few years, and indeed even politicians in the United States, may believe that the financial system was needed better regulation to discourage unscrupulous lending.
The global financial crisis enters a new phase
The collapse of Lehman Brothers on September 14, 2008 marked the beginning of a new phase in the global financial crisis. Governments around the world struggled to rescue giant financial institutions as the fallout from the housing and stock market collapse worsened. Many financial institutions continued to face serious liquidity issues. The Australian government announced the first of it’s stimulus packages aimed to jump-start the slowing economy.
The U.S. government proposed a $700 billion rescue plan, which subsequently failed to pass because some members of US Congress objected to the use of such a massive amount of taxpayer money being spent to bail out Wall Street investment bankers who some people may have believed could be one of the causes of the global financial crisis.
By September and October of 2008, people began investing heavily in gold, bonds and US dollar or Euro currency as it was seen as a safer alternative to the ailing housing or stock market.
In January of 2009 US President Obama proposed federal spending of around $1 trillion in an attempt to improve the state of the financial crisis. The Australian government also proposed another stimulus package, pledging to give cash handouts to tax payers, and spend more money on longer-term infrastructure projects.
Australia’s response to the global financial crisis – the first stimulus package
Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan delivered their first budget in response to the global financial crisis, with the main objective being to fight inflation – a major problem in the local economy at the time.
In October 2008 the Rudd government announced that it would guarantee bank deposits. With the economy facing a recession, an economic stimulus package worth $10.4 billion was announced. This included payments to seniors, carers and families. The payment were made in December 2008, just in time for Christmas spending, and retailers predominantly reported strong sales. The first home buyer’s grant was doubled to $14,000 for existing homes, and tripled to $21,000 for new homes.
The automotive industry was also given a helping hand, as several major lenders had withdrawn from the market completely, leaving banks to fill the gaps in lending.
The crisis continues – a second stimulus package is announced
A second, even larger economic stimulus package was announced by the Australian government in February 2009. $47 billion was allocated to help boost the economy:
- $14.7 billion for schools
- $6.6 billion for 20,000 new homes
- $3.9 billion to insulate 2.7 million homes
- $890 million for road repairs and infrastructure
- $2.7 billion in small business tax breaks
- $12.7 billion for cash bonuses: $950 for every Australian taxpayer who earned less than $80,000, to be paid out in March and April 2009
Are we really immune to the worst of this crisis?
Many experts had commented that the Australian economy was somewhat more insulated than other countries from the sub-prime issues surrounding the United States, and although Australia has not suffered as badly as some nations, the affects of the global financial crisis are very real and may yet deepen. The Australian housing market has slowed. What began as a relatively localised issue in the United States has had a massive flow-on effect worldwide, and it is still not known how long it will take for the world economies to recover.
Article updated March 2009