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Ten years on

Ten years ago (on 9 August 2007), the French bank BNP Paribas sparked international concern when it admitted that it didn’t know what many of its investments in the US sub-prime property market were worth and froze three of its hedge funds. This kicked off the financial crisis and the beginning of the credit crunch.

In September 2007 there was a run on the Northern Rock bank in the UK, forcing the Bank of England to provide emergency funding. Northern Rock was eventually nationalised in February 2008. In July 2008, the US financial authorities had to provide emergency assistance to America’s two largest mortgage lenders, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Then in September 2008, the financial crisis really took hold. The US bank, Lehman Brothers, filed for bankruptcy, sending shock waves around the global economy. In the UK, Lloyds TSB announced that it was taking over the UK’s largest mortgage lender, Halifax Bank Of Scotland (HBOS), after a run on HBOS shares.

Later in the month, Fortis, the huge Belgian banking, finance and insurance company, was partly nationalised to prevent its bankruptcy. Also the UK government was forced to take control of mortgage-lender, Bradford & Bingley’s, mortgages and loans, with the rest of the business sold to Santander.

Early in October 2008, trading was suspended in the main Icelandic banks. Later in the month, the UK government announced a £37 billion rescue package for Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Lloyds TSB and HBOS. Then in November it partially nationalised RBS by taking a 58% share in the bank. Meanwhile various other rescue packages and emergency loans to the banking sector were taking place in other parts of the world. See here for a timeline of the financial crisis.

So, ten years on from the start of the crisis, have the lessons of the crisis been learnt. Could a similar crisis occur again?

The following articles look at this question and the answers are mixed.

On the positive side, banks are much more highly capitalised than they were ten years ago. Moves by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision in its Basel III regulatory framework have ensured that banks are much more highly capitalised and operate with higher levels of liquidity. What is more, banks are generally more cautious about investing in highly complex and risky collateralised assets.

On the negative side, increased flexibility in labour markets, although helping to keep unemployment down, has allowed a huge squeeze on real wages as austerity measures have dampened the economy. What is more, household debt is rising to possibly unsustainable levels. Over the past year, unsecured debt (e.g. personal loans and credit card debt) have risen by 10% and yet (nominal) household incomes have risen by only 1.5%. While record low interest rates make such loans relatively affordable, when interest rates do eventually start to rise, this could put a huge strain on household finances. But if households start to rein in their borrowing, this would put downward pressure on aggregate demand and jeopardise economic growth.

Articles
The crisis: 10 years in three chart BBC News, Simon Jack (9/8/17)
Darling: ‘Alarm bells ringing’ for UK economy BBC News (9/8/17)
Alistair Darling warns against ‘complacency’ 10 years on from financial crisis The Telegraph (9/8/17)
A decade after the financial crisis consumers are still worried Independent, Kate Hughes (9/8/17)
Bankers still do not understand complex reasons behind financial crash, senior politician warns Independent, Ashley Cowburn (9/8/17)
We let the 2007 financial crisis go to waste The Guardian, Torsten Bell (9/8/17)
Bank of England warns of complacency over big rise in personal debt The Guardian, Larry Elliott (24/7/17)
On the 10th anniversary of the global financial meltdown, here’s what’s changed USA Today, Kim Hjelmgaard (8/8/17)
Financial crisis: Ten years ago today the tremors started Irish Times (9/8/17)
If We Are Racing to the Pre-Crisis Bubble, Here Are 12 Charts To Watch Bloomberg, Sid Verma (9/8/17)

Videos
The financial crisis ten years ago to the day Euronews (9/8/17)
Ten years later: What really sparked the financial crisis Sky News, Adam Parsons (9/8/17)
Bank of England warns on household debt Channel 4 News, Siobhan Kennedy (25/7/17)

Questions

  1. Explain what are meant by ‘collateralised debt obligations (CDOs)’.
  2. What part did CDOs play in the financial crisis of 2007–8?
  3. In what ways is the current financial situation similar to that in 2007–8?
  4. In what ways is it different?
  5. Explain the Basel III banking regulations.
  6. To what extent has the Bank of England exceeded the minimum Basel III requirements?
  7. Explain what is meant by ‘stress testing’ the banks? Does this ensure that there can never be a repeat of the financial crisis?
  8. Why is it desirable for central banks eventually to raise interest rates to a level of around 2–3%? Why might it be difficult for central banks to do that?
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A Moody financial sector

With the UK economy already struggling, the atmosphere in the financial sector has just a bit moodier, as Moody’s have downgraded the credit rating of 12 financial firms in the UK, including Lloyds Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland and Nationwide. The change in credit rating has emerged because of Moody’s belief that the UK government was less likely to support these firms if they fell into financial trouble. It was, however, emphasized that it did not “reflect a deterioration in the financial strength of the banking system.” The same can not be said for Portugal, who has similarly seen nine of their banks being downgraded due to ‘financial weakness’. George Osborne commented that it was down to the government no longer guaranteeing our largest banks, but he also said:

“I’m confident that British banks are well capitalised, they are liquid, they are not experiencing the kinds of problems that some of the banks in the eurozone are experiencing at the moment.”

Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland both saw falls in their shares following their downgraded credit rating. Other banks, including Barclays also saw their shares fall, despite not being downgraded. Perhaps another indication of the interdependence we now see across the world. In interviews, George Osborne has continued to say that he believes UK banks are secure and wants them to become more independent to try to protect taxpayer’s money in the event of a crisis. Moody’s explained its decision saying:

“Moody’s believes that the government is likely to continue to provide some level of support to systemically important financial institutions, which continue to incorporate up to three notches of uplift…However, it is more likely now to allow smaller institutions to fail if they become financially troubled. The downgrades do not reflect a deterioration in the financial strength of the banking system or that of the government.”

The above comment reflects Moody’s approach to downgrading UK banks – not all have seen the same credit rating cuts. RBS and Nationwide have gone down 2 notches, whilst Lloyds and Santander have only gone down by 1 notch. Markets across the world will continue to react to this development in the UK financial sector, so it is a story worth keeping up to date with. The following articles consider the Moody environment.

UK banks’ credit rating downgraded The Press Association (7/10/11)
UK financial firms downgraded by Moody’s rating agency BBC News (7/10/11)
Moody’s downgrades nine Portuguese banks Financial Times, Peter Wise (7/10/11)
Bank shares fall on Moody’s downgrade Telegraph, Harry Wilson (7/10/11)
Moody’s cuts credit rating on UK banks RBS and Lloyds Reuters, Sudip Kar-Gupta (7/10/11)
Moody’s downgrade: George Osborne says British banks are sound Guardian, Andrew Sparrow (7/10/11)
Whitehall fears new bail-out for RBS Financial Times, Patrick Jenkins (7/10/11)

Questions

  1. Do you think that Moody’s have over-reacted? Explain your answer.
  2. What factors would Moody’s have considered when determining whether to downgrade the credit rating of any given bank and by how much?
  3. Why did share prices of the affected firms fall following the downgrading? What does this suggest about the public’s confidence in the banks?
  4. Do you think it is the right move for the government to encourage UK banks to become more independent in a bid to protect taxpayer’s money should a crisis develop?
  5. How might this downgrading affect the performance of the UK economy for the rest of 2011? Explain your answer.
  6. What are the differences behind the downgrading of UK banks and Portuguese banks?
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Profits: can it really be true?

Taxpayers may actually be in profit by several billion pounds, following reports from Lloyds that their profits are up in the first three months of 2010. At current share prices, the taxpayers are in profit by approximately £2 billion and this figure is expected to rise, as share prices continue to rise. Lloyds is 41% owned by the public, after a £17 billion bail-out rescued the debt-ridden bank. These profits follow two years of losses by Lloyds TSB and HBOS of over £6 billion in 2008 and 2009.

So, what has caused this change in fortunes? First, there has been a fall in the number of loans, which have gone bad. The bank said, “In our wholesale division, the level of impairments has been significantly lower than the last quarter of 2009 and is also at a lower level than our initial expectations for 2010″. Second, there has been a widening gap between the interest charged on a loan and the interest paid to depositors. However, despite this good news, this bank (and others) are still not lending enough to stimulate economic growth. Furthermore, as Lloyds still remains heavily dependent on loans both from British and overseas taxpayers, it could be some time before taxpayers see any return on their ‘investment’.

Lloyds: Black is the colour of spring BBC News, Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (27/4/10)
Lloyds Banking Group returns to profits Guardian, Jill Treanor (27/4/10)
Lloyds profits revive as bad debts imorive Reuters, Edward Taylor and Clara Ferreira-Marques (27/4/10)
Lloyds Bank returns to profit Telegraph (27/4/10)
Lloyds and RBS shares to rise to give taxpayer potential £9bn profit Guardian, Jill Treanor and Larry Elliott (26/4/10)

Questions

  1. How have fewer bad debts and different lending and saving rates contributed to rising profits for Lloyds?
  2. If profits are back up, why are British banks still not lending enough?
  3. What factors will determine when the taxpayers actually see the return on their ‘investment’?
  4. In the Guardian article, ‘Lloyds Banking Group returns to profit’ what does it mean by “The bank did not change its earlier guidance that it expected to achieve £2bn of synergies and other operating efficiencies from the HBOS takeover by the end of 2011”?
  5. To what extent is the news about profits at Lloyds Banking Group and RBS a useful tool for the government in the upcoming election?
  6. Why is it so important that banks begin to increase their lending? What will determine the size of the effect on GDP of any given increase in lending?
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A Rock and a Wreck

Northern Rock seems to have had a fixed place in the news for the past year or so. Unfortunately, the advertising it’s been getting hasn’t been positive. The usual picture was one of a Northern Rock branch and a few hundred people queuing outside, ready to withdraw their savings.

In the financial crisis, the banking sector has been at the forefront of economic policy and billions of pounds of public money have been invested in banks simply to keep them afloat and encourage them to keep lending. But now the government, in a measure approved by the European Commission, is considering selliing part of Northern Rock, by splitting it into a ‘good bank’, which will be returned to the private sector, and a ‘bad bank’, which will have to remain nationalised. This bad bank would gradually run down its assets and eventually be liquidated. Similar plans are being considered for the part-nationalised Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group.

Northern Rock’s loan book will be cut from £100bn pre-crisis to just £20bn to ensure that a bank which enjoyed state support should not have “an unfair competitive advantage”. Savers with Northern Rock will find themselves in the ‘good’ bank, while mortgage customers with arrears and those who are regarded as risky, will be seen as ‘bad’ bank clients.

The buyers of these banks remain unknown. Tesco was considered to be a possible buyer of Northern Rock but has pulled out, with plans to build a new full-service bank itself. Established banks, such as Barclays, will not be allowed to make a purchase and the FSA has stated that standards will not be dropped to allow new competitors to enter the market, especially given that much of the banking crisis is due to poor standards and insufficient regulation. National Australia Bank, the owners of Yorkshire and Clydesdale, is a possible buyer, as too is Virgin Money, even though it would require new finance and possibly new partners. Some potential bidders may be ruled out by competition considerations. So let the games begin!

The following articles look at the banking situation and the possible developments.

Where Gordon Brown feared to tread, Kroes is ready to trample Telegraph, Alistair Osborne (28/10/09)
Lloyds eyes capital raising plans BBC News (29/10/09)
Tesco rules out Northern Rock takeover Guardian, Julia Finch (28/10/09)
EU approves Northern Rock split BBC News (28/10/09)
The Business Podcast: The break-up of Northern Rock Guardian (28/10/09)
Lloyds Banking share price could scupper offer SME Web, Roberta Murray (29/10/09)
Roll up, roll up, for the great bank sell off Independent, Richard Northedge (8/11/09)
Treasury says Northern Rock may lose savers as Government pulls out The Times, Francis Elliott and Suzy Jagger (5/11/09)
Union fears for 25,000 jobs as EU insists Lloyds and RBS must shed branches Guardian, Jill Treanor (3/11/09)
Decision time for Lloyds shareholders BBC News, Money Talk, Justin Urquhart Stewart (11/11/09)
The Business podcast: The break-up of Northern Rock Guardian (28/10/09)

Details of the European Commission ruling on the restructuring of Northern Rock can be found at:
State aid: Commission approves restructuring package for Northern Rock

Questions

  1. What started all the trouble at Northern Rock?
  2. What are the arguments (a) for and (b) against the break up of Northern Rock and the other banks that received state aid? Do you think the right decision has been made?
  3. The BBC News article ‘Lloyds eyes capital raising plans’ refers to 43% of Lloyds being owned by the tax payer. What does this mean and how has it happened?
  4. Why do you think Tesco has decided not to put in a bid to take over Northern Rock?
  5. Consider the potential bidders for these new ‘good’ and ‘bad’ banks. In each case, consider the (a) advantages and (b) disadvantages. Then, explain the type of take-over or merger this would be and whether there could be any competition considerations.
  6. One of the aims of recent developments in the banking sector is to increase competition. Why is this so important and how will it affect consumers and businesses?
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