Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, AIG, HBOS.... a list of names which might have been unfamiliar to a UK audience until the recent banking collapses and rescues hit our headlines. Their operations have all been caught out in the latest storm whipped up by collapsing property markets and related debt instruments. The speed of decline has been bewildering. Where does this leave the private investor, the person who keeps all their cash in the building society because that is safe; the person who says this has nothing to do with me?
The fall of Lehman Brothers in the US affects employees in all countries where Lehman operated, and all those institutions that had activities at Lehman Brothers.
The real crisis that has affected investors over the past two weeks is the fact that holding cash no longer seems the safe haven that it appeared the week before. The sight of people queuing outside of Northern Rock undermined the British banking system and people's faith in holding cash. No one believed the politicians and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had to guarantee all deposits in order to ensure people could leave the money where it was. Depositors need to be mindful that their exposure to a single institution cannot exceed £35,000 if they are to be covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. The prospective merger between HBOS and Lloyds TSB may require depositors to reconsider their cash allocations. People may not be aware there is only one account covered with each organisation, so spreading money is good, but you need to find out which is the parent organisation. On a medium view, this painful period pain may provide a good opportunity for investing in quality stocks, notably emerging markets. But betting on a financial recovery may wait for another week.