Financial markets: State of emergency

Friday, August 5, 2011
By Paul Martin

In 2007 the world financial system suffered a near death experience. You could have been forgiven for thinking that it was happening all over again

The conventional wisdom is that August is a sleepy month for markets, with politicians, policymakers and investors all at the beach rather than at their desks. The conventional wisdom is wrong. The credit crunch really kicked off on 9 August 2007, when the French bank BNP Paribas suspended three of its investment funds that had been dabbling in US sub-prime mortgages. Within a week, the Bank of England’s Mervyn King was getting warnings that Northern Rock was in grave danger if the squeeze in money markets dragged on (not that it had any effect on Threadneedle Street’s policies). Over the course of that month, the interest rate that banks charged each other for loans – the London inter-bank offered rate (Libor) – surged. Investors and commentators began talking about a credit crunch. Traders and fund managers who were catching some sun found themselves glued to their BlackBerrys and on the phone to their offices. These were the first steps that led to the collapse of Northern Rock in September, and ultimately to a near-death experience for the world financial system. And yesterday you could have been forgiven for thinking that it was happening all over again.

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