What might be the next big financial crisis? A bursting of the bubble in tech stocks that has built up over the last two years? A total collapse in the stock market, beyond the selloff that has already marked the start of 2016? Any of those could happen. But increasingly it looks as if it will be national bankruptcies caused by collapsing oil and commodity prices.
The International Monetary Fund is discussing a bailout of Azerbaijan, hard hit by tumbling oil prices. Venezuela is out to go bust — again — for the same reason. Ecuador looks about to go the same way. More important countries may follow them — most significantly Russia and Saudi Arabia. Neither of them looks solvent for much longer with commodity prices at these very low levels.
We could soon be back in a full-scale sovereign-debt crisis, except this time it will be commodity exporters that are caught up in the maelstrom rather than peripheral eurozone countries. But just like the eurozone crisis, the losses will soon ripple out to the banking system, and before long there may well have to be series of emergency bailouts.
The key question will be whether that can be used to drive through reforms — because there is not much point in simply bailing out countries that can’t rely on energy exports any more.