Europe eager for Senate bailout vote

Right then, the Senate. Will they or won't they?

Europe reckons "yes" as everyone seems to be betting that the US political elite cannot make the same mistake twice. To lose one vote, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, might be considered unfortunate, but to lose two would be downright careless.

For many British commentators, however, the damage has been done - to the US political as well as financial class.
Willem Buiter, a former member of England’s central bank who yesterday revealed that he was keeping his financial wealth in an “a (small) old sock,” said he was relieved that the US bailout plan is still alive. But he thinks the Senate plan to raise the bank deposit insurance from $100,000 to $250,000 per account is "a bad idea."  And he chastised the US presidential candidates for a failure to lead in a time of crisis.

"The unwillingness/inability of the next president of the USA to display judgment, leadership and courage ... is likely to do more to undermine the international prestige (and credit rating!) of the US than any increase in the public debt to GDP ratio associated with the plan," he opined.

Simon Tisdall, the Guardian's foreign columnist, was even more scathing.

"Eminent reputations lie in ruins; the august institutions of Congress, the Treasury, the Federal Reserve tremble; the presidency itself is shaken. In America's year of living dangerously, few will emerge unscathed. The consensus view, if there is one in so divided a nation, is that the US has suffered a calamitous, across-the-board failure of leadership. The bankruptcy is political as well as economic."

Signs are multiplying here of the financial squeeze starting to grip the real economy. British manufacturing is shrinking at the fastest rate since records began.

Hardy Amies, the fashion house that dressed Queen Elizabeth for 30 years, is on the verge of insolvency. Foreclosures were up 17 percent in the second quarter. Everyone seems to be scrambling to make sure what cash they have is safe.

The British government looks like it will increase its guarantee on ordinary bank deposits from £35,000 ($62,000) to £50,000 ($89,000). The Irish have given blanket guarantees on covering deposits at its six financial institutions for two years, upsetting some in Europe who think it will give Irish banks a competitive advantage.

But how many banks will be left once the brutal Cull of 2008 is over?

One of Britain's veteran bankers hazarded a guess on BBC radio Wednesday morning. Sir Brian Pitman, who spent almost 50 years at Lloyds TSB, said banks had expanded too quickly and now we are witnessing "a process of clearing out the stables."

Sir Brian predicted that ultimately we’ll see "six banks slugging it out" in Britain, though it remains to be seen how many of these will be British. One of the big winners of the credit crisis in Europe is the Spanish bank Santander, which is gobbling up High Street names as if Credit Crunch was a new form of breakfast cereal.

One of those left will be the behemoth created by the Lloyds TSB-HBOS merger – though doubts have multiplied in the last 24 hours about the deal, brokered by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to prevent HBOS going HBUST.

During the recent market rout, share prices of both institutions were pummeled so badly that skeptics began to wonder: Would Lloyds go through with the deal? Would it try to knock down the offer price, given that HBOS value was evaporating?

Today, it appears, that deal is still firmly in place. No. 10 Downing Street, we are reassured, is "in touch" with the players.
I presume that means that our prime minister is on the phone making sure that the (political) capital he has vested in the deal will not go down the tube.

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