World and Nation

IMF Mulls Credit to Stem Crisis in Developing World

With the financial crisis engulfing developing countries from Latin America to Central Europe, raising the specter of market panic and even social unrest, Western officials are weighing coordinated action to try to stabilize these economies.

The International Monetary Fund, which is in negotiations with several countries to provide emergency loans, is also working to arrange a huge credit line that would allow other countries desperate for foreign capital to borrow dollars, according to several officials.

The list of countries under threat is growing by the day, and now includes such emerging-market stalwarts as Brazil, South Africa and Turkey. They have become collateral damage in a crisis that began in the U.S. subprime housing market.

The fast-growing economies of the developing world depend on money from Western banks to build factories, buy machinery and export goods to the United States and Europe. When those banks stop lending and the money dries up, as it has in recent weeks, investor confidence vanishes and the countries suddenly find themselves in crisis.

The details of the arrangement are still being worked out, and it could be supported by Japan and several oil-producing countries, a fund official said. The fund has not yet approached the U.S. Federal Reserve, according to officials, although the Treasury Department has expressed interest in the proposal.

Two weeks ago, the Fed set up unlimited swap agreements with the European Central Bank, the Bank of England and other central banks to ease the severe credit turmoil in Western Europe.

This time, the focus would be on emerging markets, with good economic records, which are having trouble borrowing dollars.

“There needs to be some action to help these countries,” said Neil Dougall, chief economist for emerging markets at Dresdner Kleinwort in London. “There has been a severe drying up of liquidity there, and it is early days. The tsunami has only just reached their shores.”

The IMF has about $200 billion available for direct loans and currency swaps. That could be supplemented by funds from central banks, officials said, though they dismissed a rumor that circled the globe on Thursday that the fund was arranging a $1 trillion credit line.

Whatever the amount ultimately pledged, it would represent the most concerted international response yet to what economists warn could be a volatile, dangerous new phase in the crisis.

“We view it seriously,” said Clay Lowery, assistant Treasury secretary for international affairs. “There are a lot of emerging markets that have come under increased pressure recently.”

Unlike those the United States and Western Europe, banks in these countries bought few of the mortgage-related securities that undermined the financial system. But as banks stopped lending — either to each other or anyone else — that credit squeeze has hit emerging markets hard.

Stock markets and currencies have plunged, foreign capital has fled, trade flows have slowed, and in an echo of past financial crises, investors have begun to worry about governments’ defaulting.