The first tentative steps in the government's long trek to recover its credibility were announced this morning when the Chancellor, the beleaguered Alistair Darling, announced plans about plans for tackling the next banking crisis. The trouble is they haven't solved the last one yet.
Northern Rock still looks like one huge financial black hole with billions of public money being poured into it but no plan in place to recover it. The attempts to engineer a private sector sale seem to be running into the sand because of opposition from shareholders. It still looks to me as if the only sensible option is to nationalise it, strip it down to its components and then sell off those that are viable, using the proceeds to repay the huge sums that have been required to prop up this lame duck.
Why the reluctance to do this? Shareholder power seems the common excuse. But are these the most important people? I would argue no. First and foremost are the savers whose money is with the bank and these, at least, now look safe. Then, there is a careful juggling act between the needs to look after the staff and repay the loans. Only after that should shareholders get a look in.
Is this harsh? Investing in the stockmarket is a risky investment with potentially high rewards - but investors have no right to expect all the upside and then be sheltered from the downside. Northern Rock shares were a hot buy a year ago as its "too good to be true" story seduced people, many of whom should have known better.
It will be interesting to see the detail of the government's plans when they come out next month but unless they stop pussyfooting around the problem of what to do about shareholders they won't solve the current crisis let alone create a viable plan for dealing with the next one.
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