LONDON This is a bad time to be a purveyor of $1,800 pens. Or a seller of champagne, sports cars or big bouquets of flowers.
Few people feel like splurging in the City, as London's financial district is known. Instead, it is convulsing from the aftershocks of the crisis on Wall Street.
Thousands of jobs have already been lost, financial institutions have disappeared overnight, rumors swirl and no one knows where it will end.
After years of economic boom in which City workers became famous for six-figure bonuses, lavish lunches and champagne-fueled parties, the mood has turned somber.
"The City is run by two huge emotions: greed and fear," said Geraint Anderson, a former banking analyst who chronicled a lifestyle of decadent excess in "Cityboy: Beer and Loathing in the Square Mile."
"People think the party is over," he said.
In cafes and pubs, as well as on trading floors, everyone is talking about the crisis that this week alone has seen the bankruptcy filing by American investment bank Lehman Brothers, the U.S. government bailout of insurer AIG, and the takeover of foundering British bank HBOS by rival Lloyds TSB.
"People are fearing for their jobs," said John Allsopp, who works in IT for an American investment bank. "And you just wonder how it got here."
The financial earthquake that began in the U.S. subprime housing market has shaken economies around the world.
Central banks from the Bank of Japan to the European Central Bank have pumped cash into money markets in a bid to revive interbank lending and stop the crisis of confidence in the world financial system from spiraling out of control.
In Russia, stock exchanges have been closed since Wednesday as authorities try to stem a plummet in share prices. But many Russians few of whom own stocks seem convinced by their leaders' assurances that all will be well.
"I don't really see what all this has to do with me," said Nataliya Zobnina, 35, a shopkeeper at a Moscow mall. "I guess the only people being affected are the big players on the market."
Ireland is among the hardest hit in Europe. An economy that boomed by wooing hundreds of U.S. companies with low corporate taxes is now on the brink of recession.
"You'd have to go back in history to find things going so badly," said John Mahoney, 39, a stockbroker taking a smoking break outside his office on Dublin's riverside. "The Celtic Tiger seems a long time ago."
Spain, whose buoyant economy was once Europe's envy, also is watching the financial turmoil with particular worry. Following the collapse of the construction boom that drove a decade of economic growth, Spain is saddled with stagnant growth, 10.7 percent unemployment and inflation at nearly 5 percent.
"There is a lot of mistrust, and in the stock market that means great volatility, and a lot of rumorology fueled by news from the United States," said Oscar Moreno, an analyst with Madrid-based brokerage Renta 4.
Other European countries are less exposed. The Lehman Brothers collapse sent chills through Europe's financial sector but may cause only limited losses. Ratings agency Standard & Poor's said potential losses at Europe's banks and insurers from Lehman's bankruptcy were "moderate and manageable."
But even France whose strong state involvement in the economy offers a measure of insulation is not immune. The finance minister has warned that mortgages will be tougher to get as banks tighten lending. The media are feeding jitters with stories about families struggling to get credit and French bankers in London fearing for their jobs.
The British economy is particularly vulnerable, thanks to a fast-deflating housing market, high levels of personal debt and a heavy reliance on the financial and business services sector, which accounts for more than 6 million jobs or a fifth of all British jobs.
Some 350,000 people work in the City about 60 percent in finance, the rest in other businesses.
Lehman Brothers' collapse alone could cost 5,000 jobs in Britain. The HBOS takeover will see more go. Estimates of the number that could disappear in the City in the next year range from 25,000 to more than 100,000.
Tudor Taylor, 53, who works in financial services, said the mood in the City was "pretty bleak." He said the crisis had made him change his own behavior.
"I drive less. I consider major purchases to be major decisions. I've become more of a bargain hunter, and I look for discounts. I'm constantly asking myself, 'Is this a good price?' I'm more cautious, I've cut down on frivolous spending."
There's evidence others are doing the same. High-end supermarket chain Waitrose has reported slumping profits, while cut-rate rivals are booming. Alcohol, cigarette and candy makers all report healthy sales as people turn to affordable luxuries while cutting back on big-ticket spending.
London theaters had a bumper year in 2007, but nervously await the impact of the current crisis. Impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber has tried to lighten the gloom by offering free tickets to "The Sound of Music" and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" to laid-off bankers.
For now, some are keeping faith in the resilience of Britain's august financial institutions.
"Until we see the collapse of Lloyd's of London, we won't panic," said Alan Booth, who runs a flower shop in the shadow of the 320-year-old insurance market's high-rise headquarters.
But Lehman Brothers was an institution, too. So was the 300-year-old Bank of Scotland, which merged with mortgage lender Halifax in 2001 to become HBOS and will now see its name disappear as it is absorbed by Lloyds TSB.
"This time last year, people were spending a lot of money," said Luis Rosete, manager of The Pen Shop, a boutique selling exquisitely expensive writing implements in the heart of the City.
"We have pens for 1,000 pounds ($1,800) and people were buying them. Now, there are lots of people coming in, but it's mostly just browsing."