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Financial shocks: where next?

Financial crises have a habit of hitting where the world least expects. No-one predicted that disaster would strike Barings in Singapore, the Mexican peso, Daiwa Bank, the copper market, Morgan Grenfell Asset Management ­ to mention only the worst debacles of the past year. So where is next? Euromoney writers identify some possibilities. A crash in credit cards? Gridlock in foreign exchange settlements? A catastrophic loss of confidence in Hong Kong after the handover to China? First, Brian Caplen reports on the results of brainstorming with forecasters and analysts and highlights some dangers ahead

 What keeps them awake at night

 The fear that dares to speak its name

 Risk management's final frontier

 Foreign passport, who needs one?

CREDIT CARDS

Cracks in the plastic

Credit cards aren't what they used to be. When they were first sold, they were marketed to financially sound bank customers. Their relatively high interest rates reflected not so much risk as the fact that they weren't intended to be used for long-term loans. They were unsecured, but banks chose customers carefully. But credit cards turned out to be money-spinners for the issuers. That meant more banks scrabbling for market share. In turn, this implied less discrimination about customers and lower interest rates ­ but also a frightening increase in defaults.

The result is that credit cards now head the banking risk list. Credit cards represent a risk so severe that defaults could create a debt crisis as significant as LDC and property loans in the 1980s.

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