Sunday, 21 March 2010

Gordon Brown bottles it

Readers will recall my previous blogs, here and here, on the contribution of Hedge funds and short selling on the demise of the Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS, forcing the taxpayers to bail the banks out. In response to that crisis in the Autumn of 2008, the government 'suspended' short selling in bank shares for 3 months and the day after the suspension ended shares in Barclays fell by 35% which clearly showed that Hedge Fund Managers had learnt nothing from the financial crisis and that nothing less than regulation of hedge funds will do. Unfortunately Gordon Brown has bottled it by lobbying to get a European Directive to limit the activities of hedge funds binned.

The Observer in their Comment today said,
"Gordon Brown is confused about financial services. Sometimes he sees them as a legitimate target of popular anger, deserving punitive regulation. But sometimes he sees them as precious economic assets to be protected and nurtured.

The prime minister has spoken at international summits calling for taxes on speculative transactions and urging greater coordination of financial supervision. But when the EU proposes specific measures to limit the activities of hedge funds, Mr Brown knocks them into the long grass.

Last week, Mr Brown successfully lobbied to keep the "alternative investment directive" off an agenda of EU leaders. The new rules, which would impose tighter restrictions on where funds can operate, how much they can borrow and how much they have to disclose about their bets, are now on hold. They could be killed altogether by a Tory government.

Naturally that is what that hedge funds want. They argue that they did not cause the crisis (it was banks) and that they are a scapegoat for anti-market forces on continental Europe.

That is arrogant and wrong. Hedge funds attached to banks such as Bear Stearns and BNP, which had borrowed billions for risky speculation, were instrumental in the break down of confidence in markets that saw credit suddenly dry up. Besides, the destructive culture of taking wild bets while devising complex financial tricks to pass risk elsewhere, is integral to the hedge fund business game.

The alternative investment directive is not, as some financiers and Conservatives have sought to portray it, a conspiracy by European socialists to undermine British capitalism. It is a tool to limit practices that Mr Brown has himself suggested need regulation. But it will be harder now for him to take that line. Most EU governments suspect that a British prime minister always does the City's bidding in the end. It is a shame that Mr Brown has proved them right.

Gordon Brown shows again that his loyalty and committment is to the City of London and the big financiers and not the people of this country.

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