This was the week markets awoke to the awakening in the Middle East and north Africa
As Libya’s "mad dog" leader unleashed rabid mercenaries on his own people, money-fuelled panic gripped the oil market, driving the price up to $120 per barrel. The turmoil in the region sent investors scrambling for safe havens. Some continued to pour money into Japanese stocks, which have been on their best run for four years despite the mostly bleak economic news. In years past most investors would have sought refuge in the dollar, but the US economy has been giving wildly mixed signals lately causing confusion and distortion in markets. It has become a play on an over-indebted country with declining global influence as witnessed by events in the Middle East and the juvenile antics of Wisconsin’s politicians.
Oil was the main story in the corporate world too. The violence in Libya directly affected European oil producers and high-profile companies in Italy, where Colonel Gaddafi has been an investor for 40 years. Other resource giants, however, were busy getting on with business. BP signed its second potentially game-changing deal in six weeks – a $7.2bn partnership with India’s Reliance Industries to tap into one of the world’s fastest-growing energy markets. Meanwhile BHP Billiton’s CEO displayed a new pragmatic bent as he used a fraction of the company’s enormous cash pile to snap up the long-life assets of Chesapeake Energy for $5bn.
Elsewhere the clean-up to rival that of any oil spill disaster continued. Today’s Irish elections offer the potential for a grand bargain that could create a template for the orderly resolution to Europe’s debt crisis. Irish voters and others could learn from Iceland, where people refused to pay for their bankers’ mistakes and the sky did not fall in. Some of the bankers are continuing their long rehabilitation: Germany’s second-largest lender returned to profit, Royal Bank of Scotland reduced its losses and Greek banks attempted to consolidate ahead of a second round of EU stress tests. Whether bankers have yet awoken to the chaos they caused is another question entirely.