Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The reason we are in this financial mess

I've already mentioned it in an earlier post, but it's nice to see The Telegraph catching up with me with this piece by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard.

Britain has foreign reserves of under $61bn dollars (£43.7bn), less than Malaysia or Thailand. The foreign liabilities of the UK banks are $4.4 trillion – or twice annual GDP – according to the Bank of England. The mismatch is perilous.

Perilous is soemthing of an understatement. Evans-Pritchard doesn't believe we can do what I believe we should do - i.e. let the banks crash and set up new, British only banks to get our economy moving again - what he calls the "Iceland option".

But Iceland at least had the luxury of letting banks default – shifting losses on to the rest of the world. It refused to honour foreign debts.

"They drew a line," said Jerry Rawclifffe, who tracks Iceland for Fitch Ratings. "They created new banks, parking the old losses in resolution committees. It is not easy for other governments to walk away. They have a duty of care."

I guess these guys know better than me, but I remain dubious.

Indeed, if Britain walked away from UK banks' $4.4 trillion of foreign liabilities – worth eight times Lehman Brothers – it would destroy the credibility of the City and take the whole world into deeper depression.

Well, my view is that we're heading into a depression anyway - one that will last years. The responsibility of our government is to look after the British economy and British interests and if that means bad luck for others .... tough.

"The UK cannot go down that route because it would set off an asset price death spiral," said Marc Ostwald, a bond expert at Monument Securities. "The Western banking system is already on life support. That would turn it off altogether."

Am I supposed to care? As long as we in Britain have a working banking system - which we don't at the moment - then why should we be bothered whether the rest of the world's banks are up shit creek or not? The "credibility of the City"? In case these idiots haven't noticed - that has already gone. It doesn't have any credibility!

The financial sector has achieved the unachievable. They are now regarded with even more contempt from Joe Public than estate agents. Fair's fair, though - they've been regarding us with utter contempt for years and by the sounds of things that is set to continue.

2 comments:

TheFatBigot said...

I don't get the "duty of care" point at all. It seems to amount to saying that comparatively wealthy countries can't have failed banks because the losses will fall on some less wealthy countries. That is a political assessment not an economic or legal one and has nothing to do with a duty of care.

If you're bust, you're bust, and the people you owe money to have a simple choice: (1) wait and hope things improve, (2) negotiate a certain percentage in the pound now to wipe the slate clean or (3) hold out for everything and risk the limited available assets being eaten away before you get a bean.

It is the banks who owe not the rest of us and to transfer that liability to taxpayers when no one has any real idea how much is involved seems like madness to me.

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