The credit crisis has moved into a new, potentially devastating phase. While financial institutions and hedge funds have borne the brunt of the turmoil so far, the collapse of equity markets, combined with unprecedented levels of volatility, have caused the contagion to spread far beyond those firms with subprime mortgage exposures.

The insurance sector, in particular, is showing real signs of stress. With American International Group (AIG) punch drunk from mounting losses on its subprime mor

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