Subprime claims its first casualties

Economic growth, Financial Events, Leverage, Oil markets

Back at the end of August, I suggested that we had only reached the end of Phase1 of the credit crunch. I feared that it had the potential to get much worse, and to damage the ‘real economy’ where all of us in the chemical industry live and work.

This was definitely a minority view at the time, especially in financial markets. Earlier in August, I had quoted Chuck Prince, CEO of Citigroup, who expressed the prevailing mood when he said, ‘We are not scared. We are not panicked. We are not rattled. Our team has been through this before.’ We are ’still dancing’.

Yesterday, Prince resigned as CEO, following the announcement that the bank would take a $5.9bn loss on its subprime exposure for Q3. His departure followed that of Stan O’Neal as CEO of Merrill Lynch. This morning, Citi have said they may have incurred a further $11bn loss in the past month. Their shareholders are being left to pick up the bill for a very expensive period of ‘dancing’.

It is now almost certain that the current credit crisis is not going to be a ‘9 day wonder’. The problems in sub-prime apparently go too deep for an easy recovery to be possible. This is a double whammy for the chemical industry, which is already suffering from growing difficulties in passing through higher feedstock costs.

De-leveraging is an ugly phrase, and its impact on the chemical industry could be as bad as it sounds. I suggested back in mid-August that CEOs should be rolling-out ‘strict guidelines about how to manage credit risks with highly leveraged customers’. Similarly, highly-leveraged companies in the chemical sector should be conserving cash by all means possible as we come to year-end.

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