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Dubai debt rattles markets

Fears of investment arm defaulting on $60 billion debt felt in NYC, London.

People practice golf in Dubai, United Arab Emirates as U.S. investors recoiled from risky assets on Friday and dumped shares in Asian banks and builders, fearing a Dubai debt default could reignite the credit crisis.

AP Photo

NEW YORK — Dubai’s debt crisis rattled world financial markets Friday, raising concerns that some banks could further tighten lending and stall the global economic recovery.

The possible spillover effects centered on fears that international banks could suffer big losses if Dubai’s investment arm defaulted on its $60 billion debt. Stock and commodity markets tumbled in New York, London and Asia as investors flocked to the U.S. dollar as a safe haven.

But earlier concerns that the crisis might trigger another financial meltdown seemed to ease after some analysts downplayed the risks for U.S. banks, which are thought to have little exposure to the Middle Eastern city-state.

U.S. stocks fell sharply but rebounded from their lows as investors concluded that the damage might be contained. Oil prices plunged as much as 7 percent before recovering some ground.

“I don’t think the collateral damage is going to be that great,” said Jeffrey Saut, chief investment strategist at Raymond James. “People will dig into this over the weekend, but I think balance sheets have healed enough to withstand a shock like this.”

Still, the crisis in Dubai pointed to the vulnerability of the global economy despite signs of recovery. Last year’s credit debacle left major banks with billions in losses, forcing them to reduce lending to consumers and businesses.

Access to credit has improved in recent months, but analysts said Dubai’s woes could make some banks more cautious. That could further squeeze lending and weaken the recovery after the deepest recession in decades.

“What we need for the economic momentum to continue is for banks to feel confident about lending, and clearly what has happened in the last 48 hours is not a step in the right direction,” said David Williams, banking analyst at Fox-Pitt Kelton in London.

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