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It's one thing when it's Greece or Portugal. A credit downgrade or warning for those two countries isn't exactly headline news for most investors. For most of our portfolios these are peripheral markets.
Ireland in trouble too? Yawn. Don't own any Irish stocks.
Italy? What's new? Italy's always running a deficit.
Spain? That's a surprise. Time to check the portfolio. But, whew, don't own any Spanish stocks.
The United Kingdom? Whoa. Now we're getting serious. How could the home of Big Ben, the Queen, the Bank of England, the pound sterling, and double-clotted cream be facing a credit downgrade? And maybe even worse. The cost of insuring against a U.K. default in the derivatives market is only slightly lower than the price of insuring against a default by Portugal.
I don't think the United Kingdom is headed toward a default on its debt. But it is in the midst of a crisis that could reopen wounds in a global financial system that is still healing from the last crisis.