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Three Years on, Is the Financial Crisis Over?

Monday, 9 Aug 2010 | 5:02 AM ET

Three years ago to the day, BNP Paribas, the French banking giant, suspended redemptions on three funds, marking the beginning of the credit crunch.

Sharon Lorimer

The collapse of the US subprime market and its knock-on effects of the mortgage-backed securities market began a series of crisis that have come close to bringing the global economy to its knees.

Three years later, it appears the world remains clouded by uncertainty. Unprecedented actions by central banks and governments across the world have averted a melt-down in the global economy but commentators say we are not out of the woods yet.

"The crisis will be over when bank lending returns to normal, equities rise and risks come down, this has not yet happened," Brendan Brown, head of research at Mitsubishi UFJ Securities, said.

"The major problem is that quantitative easing has been counter-productive. The central banks have stopped prices from falling. When prices fall, people buy but by shoring up asset prices the central bankers have stood in the way of recovery," he added.

The Federal Reserve starts a meeting Tuesday to decide on rates and speculation is mounting over whether the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) will announce further quantitative easing to help shore up confidence.

"The big risk is that the Fed reacts to its own depression. The Fed could over-react and would be better off going on holiday rather than announcing yet more QE," Brown said.

Banking Sector Still Fragile

The banking crisis is far from over, according to Robin Bew, chief economist of the Economist Intelligence Unit.

"There is a short-term need to make sure banks do not take risks that could lead to problems and a long-term need to get banks lending to small and medium sized businesses," Bew said.

Global trade has recovered sharply since the height of the crisis and firms are now correcting an inventory overhang that is helping boost corporate numbers, he added.

"It is important no to get too gloomy, as a cyclical recovery is underway in the rich world," Bew said. "Fiscal consolidation is needed but China will boost domestic demand boosting a number of other economies."

But the banking crisis is still running, as the US commercial property market "looks sickly" with $1.4 trillion worth of loans maturing between 2011 and 2014 and a dearth of borrowers, "like Japan in the 1990s," he explained.

However bad things look, the world's top 150 banks are out of the crisis, according to Ralph Silva, director of Silva Research Network and a banking analyst.

"The top 150 banks globally have spent a fortune getting into better shape but big problems remain further down the food chain," Silva told CNBC. "I am very concerned by the banks between 300 and 1000 in the global rankings. There is no transparency and debt ratings are a concern, if we do have a problem it will be here."

"Not even smaller banks will be left to collapse in Europe and there is a lot of uncollateralized debt on the smaller banks balance sheets," he added.

It will take more than three years to get out of the crisis, other analysts say.

"Banks lend over long-term horizons like 25 years, the financial crisis will take longer to unwind itself than three years," Peter Hemington, a corporate finance partner at BDO, told CNBC.

"The ECB is still lending 700 billion euros ($931 billion) to banks and refinancing remains a major problem," Hemington added.

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