The Bank of England correctly predicted in April this year that the risks associated with US subprime lending had increased, that credit risk monitoring was poor, and that markets should be prepared for liquidity to dry up in parts of the financial sector.

It must therefore, as the Financial Times said, ‘have required some restraint not to write “we told you so” at the start of the Bank’s latest report this week on Financial Stability’. This report updates its analysis, and does not provide much comfort about the near-term outlook. It concludes that:

• Lenders will become even more nervous about asset valuations if any further problems emerge in the US subprime and housing markets
• Highly-leveraged companies, including those involved in recent buyouts, could suffer from a tightening in credit availability, as banks have to absorb formerly off-balance sheet loans back onto their books
• Equity markets (in both industrialised and emerging economies) are vulnerable to any downward revision in global growth prospects
• The US$ may also be vulnerable to a downwards correction if recent changes in investor sentiment to US securities persist

The Bank believes that the cause of the recent problems was ‘a long-standing “search for yield” in financial markets – a desire by investors to maintain high returns in a low interest rate environment’. Its view is that ‘a repricing of risk was long anticipated and necessary’.

But it goes on to add that ‘the scale and breadth of the transition have caught market participants and the authorities by surprise’. It also suggests that players have become complacent, and ‘afraid to stand against the tide for fear of losing market share’.

Its warnings echo those made in early summer by the central bankers’ bank, the BIS, which I covered on July 3 in ‘4 risks to the world economy’. And judging by the Bank’s tone in this week’s Report, we should remain on our guard in the coming months for signs that further problems are developing in financial markets.


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