Page last updated at 18:11 GMT, Sunday, 3 August 2008 19:11 UK

Credit crunch a year on: The losers

By Gavin Stamp
Business reporter, BBC News

Millions of people are worse off than a year ago due to the global credit crunch.

An office of investment bank Bear Stearns
Bear Stearns' plight brought home the seriousness of the situation

Those feeling the pain range from anxious homeowners on both sides of the Atlantic to harried stock market investors and worried employees of companies caught in the headlights of a slowing economy.

The effects have not just been felt in people's pockets.

For bank bosses, regulators and politicians, the damage inflicted has been to their reputation for competence rather than financial security.

So who has lost most from the worst financial crisis in a generation?


However you look at them, the figures remain startling.

The losses incurred by Wall Street's biggest banks and a posse of Europe's leading financial institutions run into the many billions.

Total bank exposure to the US sub-prime mortgage market, whose collapse infected wider credit markets and triggered an almost overnight liquidity drought, is still far from clear.

Short-term credit markets freeze up after French bank BNP Paribas suspends three investment funds worth 2bn euros
The bank cited problems in the US sub-prime mortgage sector
During the following months, US and European banks report losses totalling hundreds of billions of dollars
The European Central Bank pumps 95bn euros into the eurozone banking system to ease the sub-prime credit crunch
The US Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan take similar steps

The Federal Reserve has put the cost to the bottom line of banks and other lenders of their sub-prime misadventures at $100bn.

Goldman Sachs has said the figure could be as high as $400bn while the OECD has put an upper limit on the damage of $420bn.

Taking into account other failed mortgage loans, devalued mortgage-backed securities and general bad debts, the International Monetary Fund said potential losses could top $945bn.

Looking back in 50 years time, the names of Northern Rock and Bear Stearns are likely to remain indelibly linked with the crisis when other details have faded.

The respective rescues of the two firms, although very different in cause and execution, highlighted the extent of the threat to the entire banking systems in the UK and US.

Both companies were irretrievably damaged by their financial difficulties while other firms suffered grievous, if not terminal, injuries.

Former Merrill Lynch boss Stan O'Neal
Stan O'Neal left Merrill Lynch after big losses, one of many bosses to go

Switzerland's UBS admitted it would take up to three years to recover its reputation for financial prudence after chalking up losses of $38bn.

Its chairman Marcel Ospel resigned, joining a long list of illustrious banking names to fall on their swords as the losses mounted.

Others to pay the price with their jobs - albeit with large payoffs - included Stan O'Neal (Merrill Lynch), Charles Prince (Citigroup), Martin Sullivan (AIG), Ken Thompson (Wachovia), Zoe Cruz (Morgan Stanley), Joseph Gregory (Lehman Brothers) and Adam Applegarth (Northern Rock).


US homeowners, arguably, have had to endure the most misery over the past year.

As the value of their homes plummeted further, thousands found themselves in negative equity and, worse, unable to meet their mortgage payments.

Despite government assistance to help people stay in their homes, the wave of foreclosures which triggered the wider credit crunch showed no sign of slowing a year on.

Man looking through estate agent's window in Wrexham, Wales
There has been little cheer for either sellers or buyers in the past year

According to online foreclosure marketplace RealtyTrac, the number of foreclosure notices in June topped 250,000 for the second month running and was 53% above June 2007.

Worse still, bank repossessions hit 71,000 in June - up an alarming 171% on a year earlier.

Those living in California and Florida - scene of a building boom in the early part of the decade - have been worst hit, accounting for 40% of total foreclosure notices in June.

Government officials pointed out that only 2% of total homeowners were losing their homes but this proved little comfort to those uncertain about their futures.

In the UK, repossession levels also rose but nowhere near as fast.

Homeowners had little to celebrate as they watched house prices suffer their steepest month-on-month falls since the early 1990s.

At the same time, the 1.3 million people renegotiating their mortgages saw the choice of deals shrink dramatically and average borrowing costs rise as banks grappled with high wholesale lending rates and falling profits.

Prospective buyers weren't much better off as the last 100% mortgage bit the dust, average two-year fixed-rate deals hit 7% and new mortgage lending fell to a 15-year low.

Mortgage brokers, estate agents and house builders shed jobs as demand began to dry up.

This property malaise was not just confined to the US and UK.

The recent housing boom in Spain imploded spectacularly while a collapse in prices in Ireland dented confidence about its future economic prospects.


Those owning shares in banks and mortgage lenders have not had a happy year.

More than $430bn was wiped off the combined stock market value of the top 10 US investment banks between June 2007 and March 2008, while mortgage lenders lost $162bn of their total value.

This situation has worsened since then and disputes at individual firms - such as Lehman Brothers and UBS - led to shareholder lawsuits.

June 2008: 71,563
May: 73,794
April: 54,574
March; 51,393
February: 46,508
January: 45,327
December 2007: 48,854
November: 46,438
October: 53,605
September: 39,850
August: 43,141
Source: RealtyTrac

In the UK, the bank sector has been friendless with falling share prices imperilling fund-raising efforts by the likes of HBOS and Bradford & Bingley.

The credit crunch has made life less rosy for most market players, although "short-sellers" and canny, long-term investors like Warren Buffett have prospered.

But fears of a prolonged global slowdown and squeeze on company profits has led to sustained selling on both sides of the Atlantic.

London and New York recently became "bear markets", having lost 20% of their total value over the past year as investors shifted into commodities and other investments.

Less tainted by the credit crunch, Asia has not escaped these market jitters with Japanese and Indian markets among those joining the global retreat.


The financial trauma of the past year presented unprecedented challenges to politicians and regulators around the world.

Central bank governors came under fire as people looked for scapegoats for regulatory failures and lax lending policies seen to have fuelled an unsustainable credit boom.

British Chancellor Alistair Darling and US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson
Steering the economy has become a hair-raising job for politicians

Bank of England Governor Mervyn King took plenty of flak while his deputy Sir John Gieve is taking early retirement after criticism of his handling of the Northern Rock affair.

Federal Reserve boss Ben Bernanke emerged a little less bruised after being seen to take decisive action to rescue Bear Stearns and stop the US economy from tipping into recession.

But US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and UK Chancellor Alistair Darling struggled to counter the impression that they were no longer in control of events as the political fortunes of their governments took a sharp dip.

Speaking last month, the two men heralded Anglo-American co-operation to rebuild trust in the banking system but admitted that mistakes had been made before and during the crisis.

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