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)
- Do you think that Moody’s have over-reacted? Explain your answer.
- What factors would Moody’s have considered when determining whether to downgrade the credit rating of any given bank and by how much?
- Why did share prices of the affected firms fall following the downgrading? What does this suggest about the public’s confidence in the banks?
- 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?
- How might this downgrading affect the performance of the UK economy for the rest of 2011? Explain your answer.
- What are the differences behind the downgrading of UK banks and Portuguese banks?
What is the future of the Royal Mail? One thing for certain is that it needs an injection of money, which has led the government to consider either privatisation of the Royal Mail or selling it. Over the past years, we have seen continued strikes by the postal service in response to proposed changes in working practices. Mr. Cable commented that:
‘Royal Mail is facing a combination of potentially lethal challenges – falling mail volumes, low investment, not enough efficiency and a dire pension position.’
However, there are concerns that the privatisation or sale of the Royal Mail could lead to higher prices, job losses and further pension problems. The transfer of the Royal Mail to the highest bidder could shift the pension deficit, currently standing at £13.3 billion, to the taxpayer, potentially costing each taxpayer £400. The choice for the public is stark: either lose the right to send a letter anywhere in the UK for the same price or take on postal workers’ pensions.
Expecting massive opposition from the Communication Workers Union (CWU), Ministers are looking to pursue an arrangement similar to that of John Lewis, whereby staff are given shares in the company. This will give the staff an incentive to perform well to improve the performance of the company and hence increase their future dividend. Read the following articles and then try answering the questions that follow.
Royal Mail is to be privatised, government confirms BBC News (10/9/10)
Royal Mail sell-off is confirmed BBC News, Hugh Pym (10/9/10)
Royal Mail privatisation backed Press Association (10/7/10)
Royal Mail sale could cost £400 per home as taxpayers set to fund £13.3 billion pension deficit Mail Online, James Chapman (10/9/10)
Royal Mail pension plan challenged by regulator BBC News, Ian Pollock (30/7/10)
Ministers consider offering 20 per cent of shares in Royal Mail to staff Telegraph, Christopher Hope (10/9/10)
Cable to privatise ‘inefficient’ Royal Mail Independent, Cahal Milmo and Alistair Dawber (11/9/10)
Royal Mail revolution needed, say bankers Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (10/9/10)
- What are the problems that the Royal Mail is facing? Why have they occurred?
- What are the arguments for and against privatisation of the Royal Mail?
- How might privatisation lead to job losses and higher prices?
- What type of business arrangement does John Lewis have? Explain why this may improve overall performance of the company?
- If the pension deficit is passed on to the government, why will it cost the taxpayer? Is such an arrangement (a) efficient (b) equitable? Explain your answer.
‘Austerity’ seems to be the buzzword, as more and more countries across Europe make steps towards reducing substantial budget deficits. The UK has implemented £6.2 billion of cuts, with cuts of £50 billion expected by 2015 to tackle a budget deficit of over 10% of GDP. Portugal’s deficit stands at 8% of GDP and this will be tackled with rises in income, corporate and VAT tax, together with spending cuts aimed at halving the budget deficit by next year. Ireland’s austerity package includes public-sector pay cuts of up to 20%, plus reductions in child benefit, tax rises, and several key services facing cuts in employment, including emergency service and teachers. And, of course, we can’t forget Greece, with a budget deficit 12.2% of GDP, a national debt of 124.9% of GDP, and a forecast to remain in recession this year and the next. The Greek economy faces hard times with a huge austerity drive, including 12% civil service pay cuts, a large privatisation programme, and substantial pension cuts.
Greece is already in receipt of a €110bn rescue package. The Hungarian economy has already received €20bn aid from the EU, IMF and World Bank and spending cuts have been implemented, as markets began to fear that Hungary would become the next Greece. Germany is the most recent country to announce austerity measures, including plans to cut €10 billion annually until 2016.
But, what does this all mean? For years, many countries have spent beyond their means and only with the global recession did this growing problem really rear its ugly head. The only way to eliminate the budget deficit and restore confidence in the economy and ensure future prosperity is to raise taxes and/or to implement spending cuts. As the German Finance Minister said: “The main concern of citizens is that the national deficit could take on immeasurable proportions”. Unfortunately, this has already happened in some counties.
Although austerity measures are undoubtedly needed over the medium term in order to get deficits down, the impact of them is already being felt across the EU. Strikes have already occurred in massive proportions across Greece in response to the austerity package and tens of thousand of workers in Spain and Denmark also took to the streets in protest. There was anger from industry, trade unions and the media in response to €86 billion of cuts ordered in Germany between 2011 and 2014. The UK has already seen a number of strikes and more could be to come with further spending cuts in the pipeline. The Public and Commercial Services Union is threatening to re-launch strikes which began in March involving 200 000 civil servants (the action was suspended for the election.) A spokesman said: “If the cuts are anything like what is being suggested, industrial action by the unions is not only likely, it’s inevitable.”
EU governments have announced public spending cuts of €200 billion, together with a €500 billion safety blanket for the euro. Although these cuts are unlikely to have any positive effects for the everyday person for perhaps many years to come, in order to restore confidence and ensure a future economy that is both prosperous and stable, these austerity measures are deemed by many as essential. As Guy Verhofstadt (the former Belgian Prime Minister) said: “We’re entering a long period of economic stagnation. That will be the main problem for years. Europe is the new Japan.”
But will reduced aggregate demand resulting from the cuts lead to a double-dip recession and a (temporarily) worsening deficit from automatic fiscal stabilisers? We wait with baited breath.
EU austerity drive country-by-country BBC News (7/6/10)
Europe embraces the cult of austerity but at what cost? The Observer, Toby Helm, Ian Traynor and Paul Harris (13/6/10)
Germany joins EU austerity drive with €10bn cuts Guardian, Helena Smith (6/6/10)
G20 to endorse EU crisis strategy Reuters (28/5/10)
The Global recovery? It’s each state for itself Guardian, Jonathan Fenby (9/6/10)
Austerity angers grow in Europe AFP (9/6/10)
Austerity Europe: who faces the cuts? Guardian, Ian Traynor and Katie Allen (12/6/10)
Is this the end of the European welfare state? New Statesman (10/6/10)
- Are spending cuts or tax rises the best method to reduce a budget deficit? Explain your answer.
- What are the economic costs of the austerity packages across Europe?
- Who is likely to gain from the debt crisis in Europe?
- If austerity packages had not been initiated to the extent that they have, how do you think the rest of the world have reacted?
- Using the BBC News article and the Guardian article ‘Austerity measures: who faces the cuts?’, which country do you think is (a) in the best state and (b) in the worst state?
- How will you be affected by the austerity measures?
All nations are interdependent and few have escaped the recent economic turmoil that began with the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market in America. Businesses have gone under; interest rates have been cut and then cut again; profits have fallen; unemployment has risen and expectations have remained gloomy.
But, what’s the latest? How is the British economy faring and what about the rest of the world? Some sources suggest that we are already in a recovery, whereas others suggest that the current downturn is not yet over. House prices recovered somewhat in July, but various sources suggest that they experienced their biggest fall in August. The following articles look at recent economic developments.
Job cuts at Vauxhall likely as GM agrees sale to Magna Telegraph (10/9/09)
A look at Economic developments around the globe The Associated Press (10/9/09)
BoE holds QE at 175 bln stg, rates at 0.5 pct Reuters (10/9/09)
Kesa’s UK recovery hit by European slowdown Times Online (10/9/09)
Top US banker criticises bonuses BBC News (9/9/09)
Austrian GDP contraction slowed in Q2 Reuters (10/9/09)
Europe and America’s economies to beat UK, OECD says Telegraph (4/9/09)
Britain will be behind rest of world in emerging from recession Times Online (3/9/09)
Bank of England holds rates at 0.5pc and QE at £175 bn The Telegraph (10/9/09)
- Do you think the evidence suggests that the outlook for the global economy is improving?
- Why will Britain probably take longer to recover from the recession than other major economies?
- What is the theory behind low interest rates helping the economic recovery?
- Which policies have the UK and other governments used to tackle this economic downturn? Would any others have been more successful?
- In what ways and for what reasons are countries economically interdependent?