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Asia Exposed

NEW HAVEN – Asian authorities were understandably smug in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008-2009. Growth in the region slowed sharply, as might be expected of export-led economies confronted with the sharpest collapse in global trade since the 1930’s. But, with the notable exception of Japan, which suffered its deepest recession of the modern era, Asia came through an extraordinarily tough period in excellent shape.

That was then. For the second time in less than four years, Asia is being hit with a major external demand shock. This time it is from Europe, where a raging sovereign-debt crisis threatens to turn a mild recession into something far worse: a possible Greek exit from the euro, which could trigger contagion across the eurozone. This is a big deal for Asia.

Financial and trade linkages make Asia highly vulnerable to Europe’s malaise. Owing to the former, the risks to Asia from a European banking crisis cannot be taken lightly. Lacking well-developed capital markets as an alternative source of credit, bank-funding channels are especially vital in Asia.

Indeed, the Asian Development Bank estimates that European banks fund about 9% of total domestic credit in developing Asia – three times the share of financing provided by banks based in the United States. The role of European banks is especially significant in Singapore and Hong Kong – the region’s two major financial centers. That means that Asia is far more exposed to an offshore banking crisis today than it was in the aftermath of Lehman Brothers’ collapse in 2008, which led to a near-meltdown of the US banking system.