Charles Pretzlik: Queues return to Northern Rock

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The queues are back outside Northern Rock branches – I have just walked past a very long one snaking back behind the Moorgate branch in the City – and the bank’s shares have lost another 40 per cent.

A fresh push is under way to sell the bank, with Lloyds TSB reckoned to be the most interested (although Lina Saigol had some interesting thoughts about JC Flowers this morning).

The Bank of England, meanwhile, is looking less and less smart. A week ago, we learned this weekend, it decided not to provide the support that might have facilitated a takeover. A few days later Mervyn King said he thought banks should sort out their own mess (and Northern Rock’s predicament is the result of its own over-aggressive strategy). Then, on Thursday it decided to bail out Northern Rock. And now, having failed to reassure customers, who seem reluctant to rely on the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and its £31,700 guarantee, a sale is back on, complete with Bank of England support.

Also, the Bank’s justification for bailing out Northern Rock – that it was acting to maintain stability in the financial system – is either far-fetched or far from reassuring.

So far, as Peter Thal Larsen reports in his video piece this morning, there is no sign of depositors losing faith in other banks. However, Alliance & Leicester has tumbled 17 per cent, Bradford & Bingley fell 11.8 per cent and HBOS, the UK’s biggest mortgage lender, dropped 5 per cent. Alan Greenspan’s interview with the FT, in which he said US house prices were likely to fall “significantly”, didn’t help.

The rest of the day’s news so far is led by CRH, the acquisitive Irish building materials group, which is talks with Cemex about a $3.5bn-$4.5bn acquisition of assets in the US and Europe. This would be its largest deal by far, and some might see it as a bold time to be bulking up on the US. No investment banks advising on this one, apparently.

The turmoil in the credit markets has sharply cut the value of interest rate and inflation hedges Mitchells & Butlers took out when it was planning a £4.5bn property joint venture with Robert Tchenguiz. It said that in marking-to-market the swaps it had put in place, the post-tax deficit had risen from £60m at the end of July to £140m by September 13.

We also have fairly decent interims from Laura Ashley and Collins Stewart.

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