Crisis Update: More Good News Than Bad
The banking crisis may be past its worst point. But we still live in troubled times.
It looks like Gordon Brown's bank bailout is beginning to restore confidence. As I write London's FTSE-100 index is up more than 5% at 4,500 points following an 8% jump yesterday.
What's more, the US government has announced a plan to invest up to $250bn (£145bn) in US banks. The New York Times reported that half of that sum will be put into nine large banks including Citigroup, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs. The US will also guarantee new debt issued by banks for three years.
There are some small signs of improvement in the credit markets. The overnight sterling Libor rate has fallen from 5.6% to 5.43% which is a welcome fall. These interbank rates are still at unusually high levels, but if we are seeing an easing in the credit market, banks may start to feel confident enough to lend to each other and also to their customers. Then we can avoid a slump and `just' have a recession instead.
Bad news, too
But it's not all good news today. Consumer inflation has risen to 5.2%, way higher than the government's 2% target. In normal times, that would mean a rise in the Bank of England's base rate was on the cards.
However, falling commodity prices and a weak economy probably mean the rate of inflation will start falling soon. So I'd be surprised to see a base rate rise in the near future. Further cuts are still possible.
On the housing front, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) published some pretty negative data. During the three months to September, the average surveyor completed 11.5 sales which is a new low for a series that started in 1978.
Of course, falling house prices are welcome for many people, but they won't encourage consumers to spend and boost demand in the economy.
The outlook from here
Given everything we've been through in recent weeks, it's perhaps rash to make predictions, but I can't resist.
I suspect that the banking crisis is beginning to end. But it's not party time. Economies across the world have been hit and I reckon a recession is almost certain. But a full-blown depression looks less likely than it did at the end of last week.