The announcement from France that an announcement was on the way did little to appease investors Monday.
This odd habit seems especially true in Europe, where announcing nothing has been par for the course for nearly two years, as leaders flog at a proverbial dead economic horse called Greece.
It has become all the more obvious this year than last that cutting Greece loose from the eurozone would have been the more reasonable response to its inexorable debt problems. Creditors would have taken immediate losses that by now would have been old news. With Greece borrowing to get out of debt, the vicious cycle continues, whereas leaving Greece gasping by the side of the road would have ended the continuous buildup of debt and humiliation. With a new currency all to itself -- the return of the drachma, more than likely -- Greece would have been able to adjust the value of its currency to make its goods competitive in world markets again.
Europe, nevertheless, paints itself deeper and deeper into a corner, expecting to come up with a collective bailout fund that will cost otherwise reasonable European leaders their jobs. The insistence by France, Germany and the European Commission that there is a rabbit they can pull out of a hat at first looked like comforting solidarity. It now looks like "The Pirates of the Caribbean" -- one of those scenes in which three different parties in three locations are negotiating some complicated prisoner-gold-ship exchanges that only serve to get everyone deeper into trouble.
On Sunday, finance leaders of the Group of 20 Nations agreed that by Oct. 23 the mother of all strategies would be unveiled, including what to do with European banks and what to do about Greece. Stocks went into a tailspin on Monday, anyway.
Invariably, the other shoe falls in the form of Greece revising its economic forecast or, in this case, the International Monetary Fund, which warned Monday that the whiplash strategy that jolted Europe a year ago may end up being too much of a good thing. In clearer terms, a year ago, European countries abruptly shifted from providing stimulus to the ailing economy to cutting back on spending to rein in debt.
That sudden about face may have gone too far, as it has undercut the key economic engine of demand. When governments stop shopping, in other words, it is at the very least a bit ingenuous to wonder why those unemployed consumers out there aren't doing their share of spending to keep companies going.
"We call it a sovereign debt problem, but if countries were growing and were competitive we would not be in the position we are in today," Antonio Borges, director of the IMF's European division, said at a recent conference in Brussels, The Wall Street Journal reported.
On Monday, the IMF said, "The immediate risk is that the global economy tips into a downward spiral. ... Even in a less severe scenario, key advanced economies could suffer from a protracted period of low growth."
Nobody saw this coming? Occupy Wall Street may soon see what it has in common with protesters in Athens. Billions of dollars are spent on Greece to save overextended European banks and billions are spent recapitalizing banks and the economy of Main Street, again, appears like an afterthought.
In international markets Tuesday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan lost 1.55 percent, while the Shanghai composite index in China dropped 2.33 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong plunged 4.23 percent, while the Sensex in India gave up 1.63 percent.
The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia shed 2.07 percent.
In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index in Britain lost 0.98 percent, while the DAX 30 in Germany was flat, falling 0.2 percent. The CAC 40 in France lost 1.5 percent, while the Stoxx Europe 600 index lost 0.74 percent.