The finance ministry expects GDP to contract 18pc this year. House prices have fallen 50pc , the world’s most spectacular crash.
Latvia has become the first EU country to face a sovereign debt crisis after failing to sell a single bill at a treasury auction worth $100m (£61m), prompting fears of a fresh storm in Eastern Europe as capital flight tests currency pegs.
The central bank has been burning reserves to defend the lat in Europe’s Exchange Rate Mechanism, but markets doubt whether Latvia has the political will to carry through draconian cuts in spending – or whether such a policy even makes sense at this stage.
Tremors hit bank shares in Stockholm and triggered a sharp fall in Sweden’s krona. Swedbank, SEB and other Swedish banks have $75bn of exposure to the Baltic states, and face cliff-edge losses if the pegs snap.
“Latvia may be a small country but it has vast repercussions for the region,” said Bartosz Pawlowski, of BNP Paribas. “If the currency breaks in Latvia, it is likely to break in Estonia and Lithuania as well, and perhaps Bulgaria, with effects on other countries like Romania.”
Fresh turbulence in the ex-Communist bloc would rattle West European banks, which have €1.3 trillion of exposure to the region. “We haven’t yet seen the full extent of the crisis in the East European banking system. Defaults are creeping higher,” he said.