Extraordinary events have taken place in the UK since my posting on Friday:
• A bankrun took place on the 8th largest bank, Northern Rock, with lines of depositors queuing for hours outside its branches all over the weekend and Monday.
• Faced with this, the UK Finance Minister was forced to announce that the government would guarantee all deposits in the bank, regardless of size. Previously, savers would have received a maximum of £31,700 in the event of default.
• Shares in Northern Rock closed below £3 last night, having been over £12 as recently as February.
• Shares of the other two banks that have fuelled the growth in UK subprime lending, Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley, have also fallen heavily since Thursday. A&L fell 30% yesterday as the storm intensified.
On 12 July, I wrote that ‘the problems in the US subprime mortgage sector…have the potential to become a global hurricane’. The problem now is that, unlike a normal hurricane, this one seems to gather more force each time it touches down.
As I noted on 14 August, it started with ‘rolling thunder’ and its main impact was on poor Americans, who were losing their homes. Then, as it circled again, central banks were in the eye of the storm as they tried to avoid a credit crunch. I forecast that if they failed, the next impact would be on the real economy, as housing and autos have been a mainstay of chemical and polymer demand in recent years:
• The construction industry boomed in those economies where housing markets have been strong.
• ‘Equity release’ provided consumers with more money to spend on chemical-intensive purchases such as autos
• In turn, chemical demand surged in the export-oriented, emerging economies of Asia.
Since July 14, I have been advocating that CEO’s should develop ‘a major cost-leadership programme’, ready for the end of the summer vacation. Unless the US Federal Reserve can pull a rabbit out of its hat at today’s meeting, it will now be time for this programme to be rolled out.