More than 100 American cities could go bust next year as the debt crisis that has taken down banks and countries threatens next to spark a municipal meltdown, a leading analyst has warned.
Meredith Whitney, the US research analyst who correctly predicted the global credit crunch, described local and state debt as the biggest problem facing the US economy, and one that could derail its recovery.
"Next to housing this is the single most important issue in the US and certainly the biggest threat to the US economy," Whitney told the CBS 60 Minutes programme on Sunday night.
"There's not a doubt on my mind that you will see a spate of municipal bond defaults. You can see fifty to a hundred sizeable defaults – more. This will amount to hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of defaults."
New Jersey governor Chris Christie summarised the problem succinctly: "We spent too much on everything. We spent money we didn't have. We borrowed money just crazily. The credit card's maxed out, and it's over. We now have to get to the business of climbing out of the hole. We've been digging it for a decade or more. We've got to climb now, and a climb is harder."
American cities and states have debts in total of as much as $2tn. In Europe, local and regional government borrowing is expected to reach a historical peak of nearly €1.3tn (£1.1tn) this year.
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