Thursday, 18 September 2008

Middle England is Frightened..

It's been a tumultuous and unsettling week for most people. The collapse of Lehmann Brothers last weekend may not have affected too many though the ramifications will spread far beyond 25 Bank Street in terms of the loss of business at Canary Wharf and elsewhere. However, the possibility that Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS) might be in serious trouble will have caused a deal of anxiety.

The merger with Lloyds TSB might ease these immediate worries but a massive round of job losses (40,000 perhaps) suggests the fallout from the bailout will be considerable. With news channels like Sky News and News 24 running tickers for the FTSE and DJIA indices on a minute-by-minute basis, we can feel the turmoil and the volatility as though we were on the trading floor.

I watched Bloomberg last night - the analysts were queueing up, pleading with investors not to sell but to buy stocks but that message is being lost in the overall panic. The mood in Middle England is anxious too. It's all about confidence and that confidence is being undermined by the day.

Modern states function on confidence - as citizens we have to believe there will be food to eat, there will be someone to protect us and that the money for which we work has value. Lose any one of those pillars of confidence and the whole edifice of modern civilisation comes down. I once heard someone say we were "six meals away from anarchy". Perhaps, but we are also one major bank failure away from something similar.

The Labour Government looks and sounds helpless in the face of this global economic crisis but then any British Government would. The next step will, I suspect, be a concerted move to cut interest rates in Europe and America to restore some confidence. Whether that will work depends on whether any other major financial institutions run into trouble. At the moment, the fear is driving everything - restoring confidence will take time and action and perhaps not an inconsiderable amount of good fortune.

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