Life & Culture

What the credit crunch will mean for the Jewish community

The JC asks a range of experts to give us their informed views.


Daily Mail City editor, JC columnist and author of The Crunch (Random House)

"It's bound to have a huge effect on the Jewish community. In New York it's having a very big effect as the [investment] banks are heavily staffed by Jewish traders, but London is the same. Historically, most of the investment banks were founded by Jewish families, and although they've lost their Jewish ownership, many of the staff remain members of the community and a lot of people are directly affected in that sense. But we are all affected by the loss of confidence in markets. It affects our pensions and makes us much more cautious about our investment decisions."

Investment manager at Charles Stanley

 "You might think that, as it happened in America, you are removed from it in Golders Green, but you're not. There are definitely groups of people for whom this is going to be worse than for others. I'd have thought Lehman will produce a few community casualties. There are major casualties in the charity market, and if you are relying on these people then donations may just dry up altogether. Among a certain section of the Jewish population, the idea of holding money on deposit is also causing nervousness, particularly among older people."

Gershon Cohen
Head of Infrastructure finance, HBOS

 "As banks across the world digest the full impact of the credit crisis, they will first look to repair their balance sheets and be more discerning with their allocation of capital, repricing this well above the levels seen in the last few years. This will have the effect of contributing to the overall economic slowdown, making it harder for people and businesses to borrow and invest. For the next decade, there will be less wealth in the community to underpin the charities."

Pensions expert and former Downing Street adviser

 "A big problem is for anyone who is close to retirement and hoping to take their pension in the next few weeks. They might find that they don't have nearly as much pension as they were expecting, and it could be difficult. But the bigger problem is the housing market. Some people have been relying on their property to fund their retirement. Over the last few years, people who should never have had a mortgage were given one on the assumption that the value of their property would always go up. They were given a mortgage for the full value of the property, and with prices coming down, that's a real issue. House prices do need to come down further. The financial sector represents a huge proportion of our economic structure, and so the financial crisis is bound to hit us badly. In the long run, I think this is a healthy shake-out, as the banking and financial sector took far too much risk."

Economics minister at the Israeli Embassy

"Many senior people in the City may become redundant or fearful about the future in London and will be looking for opportunities in Israel - more so than before. There are many in the City who would love to go to Israel if they knew there was a challenging job for them. This has been accelerated by recent tax reforms approved by the Knesset.
"In the relative short-term, we see a continuing downturn in the British economy and we feel that there is no way out of it. What we find astonishing is that Israel has not been affected as much. The Tel Aviv stock exchange went down, but many of the banks are sound and even expanding."

Amotz Asa-El
President, Business Week Israel

"The credit crunch will affect Israel since, for the last 20 years, the Israeli economy has been globalising. That is a good thing, but at this particular moment it would have been better to be divorced from the world economy. High-tech firms might be harmed, since many of the major Israeli companies are traded on Wall Street, so their share values are affected. More substantively, demand for their products is at risk. But my assessment is that the Israeli financial sector's exposure in America has been limited and should not affect the macro-economy or individual households."

Dov Kol
Managing director, First International Bank of Israel (UK)

"A number of large Israeli banks - Bank Leumi, Bank Hapoalim and Mizrahi - were exposed to Lehman Brothers, and we don't know yet if they are also exposed to other banks around the world that were exposed to Lehman. We will still have to see how much damage was inflicted on them, but I don't think they are at any serious risk.
"Meanwhile, the Israeli banking system has shown remarkable stability and acted in a careful fashion, which has won it respect of clients. We are now seeing people who are moving their deposits from more established banks, such as UBS and Credit Suisse, which are not seen to have acted with sufficient care, to Israeli banks instead. I don't know yet how significant these moves are, but it certainly proves something."

Morton creeger
Charity and fundraising consultant

"There are signs that charitable donations are falling on two levels: at the lower level where people give smaller amounts, they may give less as they are feeling rising food and fuel prices. At the higher levels, big donors are sensitive to changes in the market.
"With regard to foundations, it depends where their investments are, but they will be watching their portfolios very carefully.

"A lot of Jewish people work in property, investments and banking. Many are significant figures in terms of large charity donations. We are going to see some pain because, inevitably, a number of people who might have been generous givers might not be in the future.

"It will take about 18 months before people feel confident enough to open up the taps again."

... but one man is still upbeat

Chancellor of the Exchequer, addressing a British-Israel Chamber of Commerce breakfast this Wednesday. He told the 300 guests at Bloomberg's London offices that he was "optimistic" and "confident" that Britain could get through these turbulent times, and insisted that the country was well-placed to do so.

"Over the next period, there will be turbulence, but I believe that we can work our way through it. There will be changes of organisations, and action taken of different types, but the key thing to focus on is the need to maintain financial stability, especially at a time when - even before the events of the last few weeks -it was increasingly obvious that we were being affected by the twin impact of the credit crunch and the extraordinarily high level of oil and other commodity prices.

"What we are seeing now is a unique set of circumstances. We have to go back a long long time - I said 60 years and was criticised at the time - to see that what we are seeing now is something that is unique in recent times and affecting every country.

"Yet, despite all that, I remain optimistic. This country is better-placed than it has been in previous occasions. For instance, in the 70s and 80s, we had extremely high levels of inflation - over 20 per cent. Our interest rates are a lot lower than they were then, and although there are bound to be fluctuations in employment, we are entering this period having had very high levels of people in work and that is important in relation to confidence and outlook.

"Let's be realistic, but also let's remain confident that we can get through it."

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