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Rescuing The Economy, Not Banks

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Our big banks aren't bust. They were recapitalised in the autumn - with £50bn of cash from taxpayers and external investors - and they remain solvent.

And if you wish to ring up the Financial Services Authority, the City watchdog, for assurance on this point, I'm sure you'll be told that the big banks have a sufficient cushion of capital to weather all but the most cataclysmic storms that may lie ahead.

However the impression has somehow been created over the past few days that they are being rescued again.

I'm not sure whether that's the result of media hysteria, bankers' neurosis or government spin.

And Royal Bank of Scotland hasn't exactly soothed nerves this morning with its historic announcement that it will report losses for 2008 of between £7bn and £8bn.

But even Royal Bank has very substantial capital resources - the more so after it converts the government's holding of preference shares into ordinary shares (when taxpayers' stake in the bank rises to 70%).

What's been announced by the Treasury and Bank of England this morning is not a survival plan for the banking system: we've already had that.

If it's anything, it's a survival plan for the British economy.

Now, as it happens, the giant insurance scheme announced today - which would see taxpayers becoming liable for all sorts of ill-judged lending by the banks - would reduce the likelihood that the banks will need rescuing again in a few months time.

It's what it says on the tin: "insurance".

But as of now, the government's primary motive for providing this protection is to stimulate lending.

The logic is that if banks can evaluate how much they'll lose in this painful recession, which is what they'll be able to do when taxpayers have the dubious privilege of insuring away the uncertainties for them, they will be less reluctant to provide new credit.

In fact, in return for providing the insurance, the Treasury will mandate banks to make new loans to households and businesses.

Why all this stress on credit? Well as I've pointed out so often as to send most of you to sleep, the withdrawal of credit from the UK and global economies is what's precipitated these dreadful economic conditions.

That's why the Treasury will guarantee bonds created out of mortgages, car loans, and other assets - to provide funding for the housing market and elsewhere.

That's why the Bank of England will swap corporate loans and other forms of credit for Treasury bills, which can easily be turned into cash (by the way, this new facility is a part of the preparations for quantitative easing, for printing money when Bank Rate is nearer to zero).

That's why Northern Rock, the nationalised bank, is starting to lend again.

All of this represents the last chance saloon for Treasury initiatives to revive lending that fall short of direct government control of lending by banks.

If credit doesn't become more readily available, the recession will deepen - and one consequence will be that bank losses will escalate even beyond the current alarming forecasts.

At that point, a new rescue plan for the banks would have to be launched. And there would be full-scale nationalisation of our biggest banks.

That's OK then it's not a bailout for the banks, but a bailout for our economy and our big banks aren't insolvent. I feel safer already especially as the FSA who the banks pay for will confirm this as there's no conflict of interest.

And if the losses escalate further does Preston seriously think our banks will have the capital cushion to absorb the losses?

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Is he reporting or setting out his own aganda?


“John Kingman, the Civil Service powerbroker in the Treasury charged with running the show, actually told our team that in any decision made, the Government would have to take account of the view of Robert Peston..........


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  • 284 Brexit, House prices and Summer 2020

    1. 1. Including the effects Brexit, where do you think average UK house prices will be relative to now in June 2020?

      • down 5% +
      • down 2.5%
      • Even
      • up 2.5%
      • up 5%

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