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Investment banks ‘to lose $30 bln’

World investment banks are set to reveal they have lost about $30 billion from bad debts linked to the global credit crunch, a report says.

Analysts are predicting the firms - many of which report quarterly results this week - will have to write-off 10% of the $300 billion loans they have agreed. In some cases profits will be almost wiped out, the Sunday Times said. The report comes ahead of a Federal Reserve meeting which is expected to see a cut US interest rates. The Fed is tipped to reduce rates from 5.25% by 0.25 or 0.5 percentage points in a move that would be aimed at preventing the downturn in the housing market and the credit crunch from severely denting the US economy. By making money cheaper to borrow, it is hoped that people would spend and invest more, revitalizing the economy.

The results from investment banks including Merrill Lynch and Bear Sterns will provide the first real insight into the impact of the crisis on some of the world's biggest banks. “The hits will essentially mean that some investment banks will have made almost no money over the last quarter,” said Khan Abouhossein, an analyst at JP Morgan. “Profits will be close to zero”. As well as their involvement in bad debt, most are expected to reveal their exposure to commercial paper - short term debt issued by large corporations and financial institutions.

The paper is not used to finance large scale investments but provides short term money - or cash flow - to these businesses. When they mature, these short term loans are generally rolled over and re-financed but the current crisis in the debt markets has led to unwillingness among investors to do this for some loans. The credit crunch has been brought about largely by troubles in the US housing market where people with low incomes were given mortgages that they have been unable to repay, and have therefore defaulted on. But because these so-called sub-prime loans have been sold on to banks and other institutions, it has been difficult to gauge who has exposure to the losses, and to what extent they threaten various companies.

Former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan has told CBS’s 60 Minutes program that during his tenure he “didn’t get” how the surge in sub-prime lending might dent the economy, saying he had no notion of how large it had become until he was about to leave office. (