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European contagion

In 2008 the world economy faced its most dangerous Crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The contagion, which began in 2007 when sky-high home prices in the United States finally turned decisively downward, spread quickly, first to the entire U.S. financial sector and then to financial markets overseas. The casualties in the United States included a) the entire investment banking industry, b) the biggest insurance company, c) the two enterprises chartered by the government to facilitate mortgage lending, d) the largest mortgage lender, e) the largest savings and loan, and f) two of the largest commercial banks. The carnage was not limited to the financial sector, however, as companies that normally rely on credit suffered heavily. The American auto industry, which pleaded for a federal bailout, found itself at the edge of an abyss. Still more ominously, banks, trusting no one to pay them back, simply stopped making the loans that most businesses need to regulate their cash flows and without which they cannot do business. Share prices plunged throughout the world—the Dow Jones Industrial Average in the U.S. lost 33.8% of its value in 2008—and by the end of the year, a deep recession had enveloped most of the globe. In December the National Bureau of Economic Research, the private group recognized as the official arbiter of such things, determined that a recession had begun in the United States in December 2007, which made this already the third longest recession in the U.S. since World War II.