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Top European banks suffer, stimulus measures planned

Profits evaporated at top European banks on Monday and authorities worldwide pressed on with schemes to bolster financial sectors and weakening economies by increasing spending and cutting interest rates.

French bank Societe Generale reported an 83.7% fall in third-quarter net profit but said it was strong enough to withstand the global financial crisis.

Net profit fell to €183 million ($233.8 million) with losses tied to the collapse of Lehman Brothers and other writedowns costing the bank €1.208 billion in pre-tax income.

Germany's second-biggest bank Commerzbank said it would take a €8.2 billion injection from the state and another €15 billion in guaranteed funding to secure refinancing. It posted a third quarter net loss of €285 million.

And Britain's biggest home lender HBOS Plc raised its hit from the value of risky assets and bad loans to over Ł5 billion ($8.14 billion) as its takeover partner Lloyds TSB predicted a sharp fall in profits.

Lloyds stepped in to buy HBOS in a government-brokered deal after HBOS was hit by a global financial crisis and concerns about its exposure to Britain's weakening housing market.

The United States, Germany, France and Britain have offered to inject capital into their banks to prevent systemic meltdown.

France has earmarked €360 billion for the country's finance sector and French Prime Minister Francois Fillon was quoted by Le Figaro newspaper on Monday as saying that if the banks did not use the money to lend to businesses, then the government could take direct stakes in them.

The credit crunch, which stemmed from a collapse in the US housing market, has prompted banks to clam up on lending to each other, businesses and households for over a year now.

Governments worldwide have also put together fiscal stimulus packages to ward off the effects of a recession born of the worst financial crisis in 80 years.

The German government aims to safeguard a million jobs with its plan after last month putting together a €500-billion bank rescue package.

“With the package we will approve in cabinet next Wednesday, we will definitely mobilize more than €30 billion,” Economy Minister Michael Glos told Sunday's Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

South Korea announced plans to pump an extra $11 billion into its economy next year to temper the global financial storm.

Finance Minister Kang Man-soo said economic growth could fall to its lowest in more than a decade without the stimulus, which will need approval by parliament where the pro-government party has a large majority.

Policymakers will gather again to plot their next moves.

Euro zone finance ministers meet in Brussels later on Monday to discuss reform of institutions that manage the global financial market and bodies such as credit rating agencies, accounting rules-setters, banks and their management.

Finance chiefs from the “Group of 20” key world economies meet in Brazil later this week to prepare for a November 15 summit of world leaders to chart a way out of the financial crisis.

Central banks will also put their shoulders to the wheel.

Following rate cuts from the US Federal Reserve, China and the Bank of Japan last week, the European Central Bank, Britain and Australia are all expected to cut interest rates by at least 50 basis points this week.

“The focus this week is clearly on some of the major central banks and it is hard not to see the disease that started in the United States spreading to other economies,” said Robert Rennie, chief currency strategist at Westpac in Sydney.

The efforts to buoy the world economy encouraged some investors to shop for bargains after world stock markets fell 20% in October alone, their worst month ever.

The MSCI index of stocks in the Asia-Pacific region outside Japan rose 5.9%, up for a fifth consecutive session, and European shares gained nearly one percent.

But while trillions of dollars in bank bailouts may have averted financial meltdown, the economic outlook is grim. Many economists and policymakers say the world's top economies are in recession already and prospects for corporate earnings look dim.

Even new economic powerhouse China was not spared the pain. Its manufacturing survey showed a sharp drop in output in October, coinciding with official pledges to do more to boost domestic demand.

The global economic upheaval has relegated Tuesday's US presidential election to little more than a footnote for financial markets. Investors have factored in a victory for Democrat Barack Obama, who leads in opinion polls. (Reuters)