Insider Business Club: economic recovery

Will there be any long-lasting effects of this credit crunch on the real
economy and what will those effects be?

Eric Anstee, non-executive director, Insight investments

The answer to that is that we don’t know yet. We haven’t seen what the impact
of the credit crunch will be on a number of banks. We’ve seen some of the big
banks, like Citigroup and UBS announcing some significant losses as a result. We
should also look carefully at what happened at Northern Rock. What we saw there
is the LIBOR rate break away from the bank base rate. That LIBOR position has
yet to come home to roost to the corporates, so there will be a impact on
corporate profits. Somebody will end up paying for this. My concern is what the
impact will be on the corporate market Ð not just in terms of the cost of debt,
but the availability of debt.

That said, we have seen these conditions before. I am old enough to remember
the days when you had to be in a savings scheme to get a building society
mortgage. One of the things that might affect the everyday person is that it
will be much harder to get the criteria for lending and the cost of mortgages
will rise. My concern is down at the lower end, the small and medium-sized
businesses that want to raise capital, who are going to have to pay a lot more
for it and find it harder to access.

How long will the pain be felt?

Hugh Brown, head of corporate finance debt advisory,

I hope there is not more pain to come. A lot of clients are looking at what
will happen in the market in three months’ time.

There is a lot of talk that interest rates will come down. The current issues
around syndicating some loans have obviously caused some problems with the banks
and would have worked their way through the system and the market should
probably come back round at January/February. A lot of clients are watching
carefully around the medium-term holds. People are more optimistic in the medium
term, but time will tell. We talk to a number of banks when we’re trying to
re-finance or finance an acquisition and the market has changed. The usual
suspects, as it were, that were prepared to lend the money to other banks, don’t
have a problem with a syndicated loan. They don’t have a constipation problem
with something on their books; they see this as an opportunity for going for
some market share. So some of the banks have used this opportunity to indicate
that they are open for business. While other banks are having problems with
their credit committee where their exposure is.

How concerned should finance directors be?

Iain Coke, head of financial services faculty, ICAEW

We haven’t had a lot of FDs contact us with concerns. The institute’s
business confidence monitor, which surveys FDs in business, went down in August
for the first time in two years. It was particularly business services, covering
financial services and professional services, where confidence was going down.

And normally when you have issues such as this, the retail sector tends to be
hit first, but this time it was business services and London in particular where
the drop in confidence was noticeable. Our field work for that survey was
happening before the problems in August arose. We are testing confidence at the
moment for our November survey, so that will provide some interesting results.

That is an interesting question. The current situation has focused a little
on some of the risks that people weren’t monitoring as closely as they could
have done, both in banks and elsewhere, with benign conditions that we have had
the availability of easy credit. It shines a light on the fact that there are
some things that you might forget about when things are going well.

We haven’t seen businesses under pressure for a number of years and the
current situation reminds everyone that we need to look across our business at
all the risk we are exposed to. You can’t rely on cheap credit being available.
Just as banks need to monitor their liquidity levels and assets liability,
matching businesses need to make sure that they are matching up their currency
risk and investments to the sources of finance. It goes back to the basics of
finance, properly managing your business and considering all the risks that are
out there. Can you predict any of the unknown unknowns? Because there will be
some out there.

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