The largest terror attack in history has left the world in a state of shock. But while George Bush is trying to get back to Washington to hold consultations on what to do and how to do it, while the governments of the world are issuing condemnations and consolations, the world's financial markets reacted immediately.
On the markets there is no need for consultations, there is no need to reach agreements. On the markets there are no governments and no meetings to be held. On the markets investors from all corners of the earth react at the speed of light.
Reactions ranged from shock to panic. The stock exchanges in Europe slumped, bond prices gained, oil and gold soared, and the world took refuge in the Swiss Franc, not the dollar. In Israel, the market dropped 2 percent in the last hour of trade and the dollar hit a new high against the shekel of NIS 4.42.
The next few days will be marked by uncertainty and fear. The American public will feel that something has collapsed, that America's power is not impervious to every threat. The public will, as a consequence, believe that shares are now worth less and their value on the stock exchanges in the United States will fall in the short term. Because of the worldwide influence of the U.S, share prices will slide all around the globe. The dollar is also expected to lose ground, because conditions for it are ripe - a large deficit in the American balance of payments.
But the big question is, what will happen to the real economy of the U.S. - to the big companies, to business, to employment - after the air clears and the panic passes. This is a different story altogether. Even though the disaster is enormous, it is after all a one-off event, not a war that needs forces and budgets. We are talking about an act of terror - enormous as it may be - that cannot divert the huge American economy from the path it is on.
Although the the U.S. economy is currently in a downturn, its gross domestic product is gigantic - about $10,000 billion a year. In comparison, the GDP of Israel is $110 billion a year. So we cannot expect this act of terror to have a great influence on the real economy of the U.S. - not on business and not on employment. Even the war in Iraq a decade ago didn't shift the American economy from its path.
But the American Federal Reserve is taking no chances and yesterday it hurried to announce that it would put as much cash as necessary at the disposal of the economy. The chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, is afraid that the public and businesses will not want to buy shares in order not to incur losses. But they will need credit to continue their operations and therefore he decided to supply the banks with money so that they will be able to offer credit to all who desire, and at a good price. This is a solution that worked well on Black Monday in October 1987, and Greenspan wants to use it once more. His message to Americans is business as usual.
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