Second British bank nationalised as US credit crunch spreads (Roundup)

September 29th, 2008 - 10:47 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Sep 29 (IANS) The British government announced Monday it will nationalise buy-to-let mortgage lender Bradford & Bingley in a 42 billion pound bailout as the American credit crunch began spreading in Europe.The government said it will take control of Bradford & Bingley’s 42 billion pound mortgages and loans, while its estimated 21 billion pound savings unit and branches are to be bought by the Spanish bank Santander - for a reported sum of around 600 million pounds.

“Following recent turbulence in global financial markets, Bradford & Bingley has found itself under increasing pressure as investors and lenders lost confidence in its ability to carry on as an independent institution,” said the Treasury (finance ministry).

Elsewhere in Europe, the governments of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg announced a $16 billion bailout for the Benelux financial and insurance service provider Fortis NV - one of Europe’s top 20 banks.

The part nationalisation of the banking giant came after investor confidence in the bank disappeared last week.

In Germany, the country’s second biggest commercial property lender, Hypo Real Estate Holding AG, calmed nerves by announcing Monday it had secured a multibillion euro line of credit from several banks.

The German finance minister and banking regulator held urgent talks with the company at the weekend after its stocks plunged Friday.

In Britain, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the state takeover of Brandford & Bingley would preserve financial stability, adding, “We will work night and day to make sure that Britain can come through fairly this downturn.”

The nationalisation - a rare instrument of intervention in market-friendly Britain - is the second since the government took over Northern Rock, a bank that too was hit by the credit crunch, in February.

Earlier this month, the government brokered the private takeover of Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS), Britain’s largest mortgage lender, by rivals Lloyds TSB.

The plan to nationalise Bradford & Bingley was reportedly agreed at a meeting between Brown and his Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) Alistair Darling Saturday after the bank suffered from a lack of confidence in recent weeks, with shares falling more than 93 percent in the past 12 months.

While it is said to have enough liquidity to tide it well into the next year, analysts said the bank’s problems were mainly the result of its focus on lending money for the buy-to-let property market, which has seen a large rise in bad debts as British house prices have fallen.

The government said that under the nationalisation model it is following, the taxpayer will be protected because any losses would be borne by the wider banking industry under a government compensation scheme.

But the opposition Conservative Party, which is leading ruling Labour by 19 points in opinion polls, came out against the nationalisation, saying the cost would ultimately be borne by the taxpayer.

The party’s shadow finance minister George Osborne said instead of nationalising the government should place the bank in a “special resolution regime” under which Britain’s central bank would run the bank down.

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