The panic has been stabilised for the moment by the de facto nationalisation of Northern Rock and the promise to guarantee the value of deposits. It will be important to ensure that this guarantee does not become a crooks\’ charter in which any dodgy bank will be able to lure in depositors with attractive interest rates, expand rapidly using Northern Rock\’s business model and then call in the Government when it hits trouble.
Well, yes, that\’s the moral hazard part of it all, isn\’t it. By making xertain behaviours less risky you make them more likely.
The FSA also has much to answer for. It beggars belief that it failed to see any connection between Northern Rock\’s reliance on financial markets, rather than customers\’ deposits, and its frantic expansion into new mortgage lending with ridiculous multiples of incomes and loan-to-value ratios.
Well, those loans haven\’t actually gone wrong (yet!) so we\’ve no evidence that they were a bad idea. But yes, the FSA does seem to have been asleep at the wheel. They\’ve only been responsible since 2004 mind, so it might be that the system cooked up by El Gordo wasn\’t actually fit for purpose.
But the Government should not be allowed off the hook. Eddie George warned what could happen if the Bank\’s responsibility for systemic stability was separated from day-to-day banking supervision. Gordon Brown ignored him. When I asked who was responsible for the dangerous bubble in the housing market against which new mortgages are secured, I was told a tripartite committee. No one was in charge.
Quite so. This little dig is also worth savouring:
David Cameron\’s claim to have anticipated the personal debt problem didn\’t persuade even his supporters. Economic policy is not a branch of the public relations industry.