CHICAGO A London businessman may have to put off his wedding. A baker in Paris fears customers will disappear. A student in Slovenia sees an automobile loan fall out of reach. And a real estate agent in Chicago says she's just plain scared.
The worst financial crisis since the 1930s was stark reality for millions on Wednesday as retirement savings evaporated, jobs disappeared, stock market values slipped again and a dramatic cut in interest rates by central banks from Europe to Asia did little to stem three weeks of near panic.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank another 2 percent on Wednesday, closing 189 points lower at 9,258.
Over the past 12 months, more than $12.4 trillion of global stock market wealth has been wiped out, as measured by the MSCI main world equity index. More than a third of that loss -- about $4.6 trillion -- has come in just the past three weeks as credit market turmoil deepened after the bankruptcy of giant U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers.
What the International Monetary Fund termed a major downturn for the world economy was already evident to many, like the elderly Illinois couple who said this week they'd stashed $100,000 in cash fearing a bank failure or U.S. automobile dealers hit with the worst sales slump in 15 years.
"I'm scared, really scared," said Cathy Ivcich, 45, a Chicago real estate agent. "People have stopped buying houses. I've got a lot of buyers who have secure jobs or who have money, and I'm sure I could get them a loan. But they're just scared. Their feet are stuck."
She's stopped going out to dinner and "all those canned goods in the pantry, we're trying to find a way to use them," she said.
In London 39-year-old Neil Taylor worried whether the money he's earned from his scaffolding business is safe in the bank, and he may take it out. In the meantime he's cut back spending and is "thinking about putting off my wedding."
An angry fellow Londoner, Steve Gallagher, 52, a building contractor, found it hard to believe "that common sense went out the window and greed flew in. It was a fool's rush ... I know that if I had committed what looks like fraud, I would be fired."
Buenos Aires businessman Nelson Lampert, 25, has put off a trip to Cuba for the technology company where he works, fearing global uncertainty and the impact of running up dollar-based credit card debt during travel.
At a bakery shop in eastern Paris, Latifa Mohsni, 56, said some people are cutting back on their purchases already and though "we're doing fine here ... I've heard plenty of customers say they're worried about what all this crisis talk really means. I think it will hit us eventually."
For Jost Ivancic, a 22-year-old student in Ljubljana, Slovenia, the situation makes it "even more improbable I could get a bank loan to buy a house or a car. I have no money to speak of right now."
In Iceland, where Adam Stempinski, 38, found construction work after leaving his native Poland, "It's getting more difficult to make ends meet. But I believe the country will pull through. I'm staying here, I'm still better off here than in Poland."
Taxi driver Joe Green in Washington, D.C., said he was finding fewer customers, fewer tips and a 40 percent cut in earnings after 20 years driving the streets.
"I am struggling to pay everything. The other day I wanted to go buy shoes but first I had to get gas and $20 doesn't go very far any more ... If I was to get sick or my car was to break down I would be dead broke. I used to take my wife out and go to Atlantic City. I can't do that no more," he said.
Emily Chamberlin, 39, an events manager at a Smithsonian museum in Washington, said her real estate agent husband has not sold a house in three or four months, so the couple has cut down on entertainment and have put travel plans for next summer on hold.
"But here I am holding a $4 Starbucks coffee. I love my Starbucks," she said.
Deborah Taylor, 37, a stay-at-home mother in Cincinnati, said she and her husband are considering switching their retirement investments "maybe to commodities ... I don't know much about investing and he doesn't either."
In the U.S. heartland, where 39-year-old Jackie McMahon and her husband run three candy stores in the Kansas City, Missouri, area, sales are off, and costs are up.
"It's just getting by day to day. It's a feeling of total insecurity," she said.
(Reporting by Omar Valdimarsson, Reykjavik; Avril Ormsby, London; Brian Rohan, Paris; Manca Ulcar, Ljubljana; Ross Colvin in Washington; Andrew Stern and Nick Carey in Chicago; Andrea Hopkins in Cincinnati; and Carey Gillam in Kansas City; editing by Peter Bohan and Eric Beech)