October 9, 2008 / 3:00 AM / 10 years ago

Wall Street panic rolling over consumers worldwide

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A London businessman may have to put off his wedding. A Hong Kong housewife is too worried to make investments. A student in Slovenia sees an automobile loan fall out of reach. And a real estate agent in Chicago says she’s just plain scared.

Street signs mark the intersection of Main Street and Wall Street in Windom, Texas October 8, 2008. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

The worst financial crisis since the 1930s was stark reality for millions on Wednesday as retirement savings evaporated, jobs disappeared, stock market values slipped again and a dramatic international cut in interest rates by central banks did little to stem three weeks of near panic.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank another 2 percent on Wednesday, closing 189 points lower at 9,258.

Over the past 12 months, more than $12.4 trillion of global stock market wealth has been wiped out, as measured by the MSCI main world equity index. More than a third of that loss — about $4.6 trillion — has come in just the past three weeks as credit market turmoil deepened after the bankruptcy of giant U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers.

What the International Monetary Fund termed a major downturn for the world economy was already evident to many.

“I’m scared, really scared,” said Chicago real estate agent Cathy Ivcich, 45. “People have stopped buying houses. I’ve got a lot of buyers who have secure jobs or who have money, and I’m sure I could get them a loan. But they’re just scared. Their feet are stuck.”

She’s stopped going out to dinner and “all those canned goods in the pantry, we’re trying to find a way to use them.”

In London, 39-year-old Neil Taylor worried that the money from his scaffolding business might not be safe in the bank. In the meantime he’s cut back spending and is “thinking about putting off my wedding.”

In Hong Kong, 40-year-old housewife Cat Lee joined a crowd glued to screens at a brokerage, but said she was in no mood for buying. “It’s a question of confidence now. Before, people were always scared of losing out on a rebound, but nobody dares enter the market now,” she said.


Buenos Aires businessman Nelson Lampert, 25, has put off a trip to Cuba for the technology company where he works, fearing global uncertainty and the impact of running up dollar-based credit card debt during travel.

At a bakery shop in Paris, Latifa Mohsni, 56, said some people are cutting back on their purchases already and though “we’re doing fine here ... I’ve heard plenty of customers say they’re worried about what all this crisis talk really means. I think it will hit us eventually.”

For Jost Ivancic, a 22-year-old student in Ljubljana, Slovenia, the situation makes it “even more improbable I could get a bank loan to buy a house or a car. I have no money to speak of right now.”

In Iceland, where Adam Stempinski, 38, found construction work after leaving his native Poland, “It’s getting more difficult to make ends meet. But I believe the country will pull through. I’m staying here, I’m still better off here than in Poland.”

Taxi driver Joe Green in Washington, D.C., said he had fewer customers, fewer tips and a 40 percent cut in earnings after 20 years behind the wheel.

“I am struggling to pay everything. The other day I wanted to go buy shoes but first I had to get gas and $20 doesn’t go very far any more ... I used to take my wife out and go to Atlantic City. I can’t do that no more,” he said.

Emily Chamberlin, 39, an events manager at a Smithsonian museum in Washington, said her real estate agent husband has not sold a house in three or four months, so the couple has cut down on entertainment and put summer travel plans on hold.

“But here I am holding a $4 Starbucks coffee. I love my Starbucks,” she said.

Deborah Taylor, 37, a stay-at-home mother in Cincinnati, said she and her husband are considering switching their retirement investments “maybe to commodities ... I don’t know much about investing and he doesn’t either.”

In the U.S. heartland, where 39-year-old Jackie McMahon and her husband run three candy stores in the Kansas City, Missouri, area, sales are off, and costs are up.

“It’s just getting by day to day. It’s a feeling of total insecurity,” she said.

Reporting by Omar Valdimarsson in Reykjavik, Avril Ormsby in London, Brian Rohan in Paris, Manca Ulcar in Ljubljana, Ross Colvin in Washington; Andrew Stern and Nick Carey in Chicago; Andrea Hopkins in Cincinnati, Carey Gillam in Kansas City, and James Pomfret in Hong Kong; editing by Patricia Zengerle

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