Charles Pretzlik: Northern Rock deserves worse

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Northern Rock is the only story in town today. Before running through the main angles here, let’s just quickly get a few things straight.

If Northern Rock is not bust it is only because of the Bank of England and the government don’t want it to be. Call it what you like, but this bank ran out of money and can no longer fund all its liabilities, let alone finance its aggressive business model. It is not an innocent victim of events far away, as chief executive Adam Applegarth portrayed it on this morning’s call; it has had to be rescued because its strategy made it more vulnerable to those events than others’. One of our reporters listening to Applegarth on the analysts’ call this morning was struck by how laid-back and quick to blame others he was.

Willem Buiter of the LSE, writing in his blog this morning, is right in my view: the collapse of Northern Rock would not have threatened the financial system and the Bank need not have propped it up. Other guarantees could have been given to protect customers and prevent a run on the bank(s). This looks instead like a political decision intended to spare Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling’s blushes.

What happens next? First, Northern Rock gets bought, or gets a significant strategic investors. Some banks have already had a look but had problems valuing the business. HSBC and Lloyds TSB must be potential bidders. Expect talks over the weekend, heavily encouraged by the Bank of England. Northern Rock shares are down 22 per cent. Other bank shares are off a bit as well, although Alliance & Leicester is falling sharply. It’s possible, I suppose, that the business just goes into run-off but a takeover seems more likely.

We also need to assess how people think the Bank has handled this, and how many other banks – here or abroad – are in a similar position.

And we must explain what this means for customers. Long queues are forming at some Northern Rock branches - one of our photographers has just phoned in to say, for example, that that people are standing all the way down Moorgate in the City. We’re checking wire reports of rival banks handing out leaflets to Northern Rock customers in the street.

Finally, you have to chuckle at our supplement this morning - Doing Business in North-east England. “Revival of confidence is built on deep roots,” was the headline.

A couple of other things we’re looking at today. It is Barclays EGM and, as FT Alphaville reports, the tone of chief executive John Varley’s statement on the ABN Amro deal was decidedly lukewarm.

We have our media correspondents in Cambridge today at the Royal Televison Society conference. Apparently there’s no mobile signal in the press room, which is amusing but doesn’t bode well for copy-flow later.

Also, John Allan, chief executive of Exel until it was bought by Deutsche Post, is to become Deutsche Post’s CFO. Most people thought he would run his division for a couple of years and then leave. Apparently not. Impressive work. Odd, though, that Deutsche Post denied a report in Financial Times Deutschland last month that the existing CFO, Edgar Ernst, would be replaced... What is it about some German companies and their attitude to the truth?

Finally, Sports Direct has lifted its stake in Umbro, going to 9 per cent.

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