Sir Fred Goodwin, CEO of RBS, was one of the poster boys of the new banking model. Along with his peer group, he preached the virtues of the ‘efficient balance sheet’. Equity was for wimps. The blog warned over a year ago that the ‘seeming genius’ in recent years of people such as Sir Fred ‘has been due to nothing more than the application of high leverage during the ‘up’ part of the business cycle. As and when we go into the ‘down’ cycle, leverage will exert its same impact on the downside.’
This morning, Sir Fred is gone. So is Sir Tom McKillop as Chairman – a very talented and friendly man, but out of his depth when he moved from running AstraZeneca to chairing the ‘go-go’ bankers at RBS. Instead, Gordon Brown is now effectively the blog’s bank manager, as the UK government will end up owning 60% of RBS in exchange for a £20bn ($35bn) capital injection – twice its recent market capitalisation.
Financial markets currently seem to be discounting the end of the world. So it would be no great surprise if the recent panic was replaced by a more balanced outlook. But the unusual feature of this recession is that the banks have already gone bust, even before the ‘real economy’ has turned down. So unfortunately, as the blog warned early last month, this probably means that deleveraging still has a long way to run.