Who invented the term credit crunch is unclear but it was used in study by America’s Federal Reserve Bank as far back as 1967. (“The Sunday Times” January 4, 2010)1 Financial crises have intervened the operation of financial markets over years. Most noticeably the great depression in 1929-30, the 1970s inflation crises and the banking crises in the 1990s created confusion in the financial markets causing severe disruption. The current financial crisis which emerged in 2007, although the roots were shown much earlier, has been one of the toughest and probably the biggest that financial markets have ever faced. “Most analysts link the current credit crisis to the sub-prime mortgage business, in which US banks give high-risk loans to people with poor credit histories. These and other loans, bonds or assets are bundled into portfolios – or Collateralised Debt Obligations (CDOs) – and sold on to investors globally.” (“BBC” 7, August 2009)2 The impact of the credit crunch is not only on the banking but it also affected the economy of the world and this leads to the long and deep recession. Northern Rock was the first casualty in UK, which run almost one hundred years. Northern Rock was previous Northern Rock building society, formed on July 1, 1965 as a result of the merger of Northern Counties Permanent Building Society (established in 1850) and Rock Building Society (established in 1865).(“The Sun” 14 September 2007)3 In April 1996 the Society’s chairman, Robert Dickinson, announced the formation of the Foundation as part of its plans to become a public limited company. The proposal was to establish a charitable body with approximately 15% of the issued share capital, and a covenant of 5% of the new plc’s annual profits. In October 1997 both the bank and the Foundation became a reality. (“Northern Rock foundation” History) 4 “Northern Rock’s core business is the provision of UK residential mortgages, funded in both the retail and wholesale markets. It also provides secured commercial lending and personal unsecured lending products and northern rock become fifth largest UK mortgage lender and the largest financial institution based in the north east of England.” (“The Sun” 14 September 2007)3
The aim of this essay is to investigate “Credit Crunch and its effect on Northern Rock”.
Objectives of this essay are to respond to these three questions: What were the serious causes/problems of credit crunch? What is the History of Northern Rock? What was the impact of credit crunch on Northern rock?
This essay focused on credit crunch, numerous of sectors have been effected by credit crunch. In this essay research has been limited to crises of Northern Rock due to the effects of credit crunch on Northern Rock that how come a fifth largest UK mortgage lender and the largest financial institution went into solvency due to credit crunch?
A credit crunch could be describe as “when in financial markets credit dries up, banks lending money to each other become an excessive risk and so refuse to do so, or do so at higher rates of interest, People also reject to invest in the banks by not purchasing their bonds. All the financial system and money flow system becomes jammed up and this leads to banks defaulting on their loans to each other or to third parties and if the central bank doesn’t provide liquidity to the banks”.
The trigger for the liquidity crisis was started from US an increase in subprime mortgage defaults, between 2004 and 2006. The financial calamity as made in America caused by U.S. housing bubble by creating inappropriate mortgage loans and high risk mortgage products through securitization and different kinds of complex structured products, these mortgage loans were transferred to invertors to investors around the world from the balance sheets of lenders, in response, the increase in the value of these financial products, it created a global financial problem.
In the begging banks were in good position, they wanted to lend their money so they started to look new market to lend money. Banks found new market “subprime (people of low income) market”. Banks targeted the people who had not owned houses, before people who could not able to borrow money before and people with the poor credit history, in short unreliable borrowers, offering them cheap introductory mortgages at low interest rates. Banks and the other lenders interest rates were low and lowest ever rates. “Interest rates hit rock bottom in America in 2004 at just 1 per cent”. (“The Sun” 14 September 2007)3 So banks started to lend money these new risky borrowers, many of them bought houses and bank took their new subprime debts. Mortgages were turned into mortgage bonds (“A bond secured by a mortgage on a property. Mortgage bonds are backed by real estate or physical equipment that can be liquidated”). (“Investor Words Mortgage” bond definition) 5 Mortgage-backed securities/ CDOs (collateralised debt obligations) were sold on to hedge funds and investment banks who decided they were a great way to generate high returns (and big bonuses for the oh-so-clever bankers that bought them). (“The Sun” 14 September 2007)3 These “bonds or assets are bundled into portfolios – or Collateralised Debt Obligations (CDOs) – and sold on to investors globally.” (“BBC” 7 August, 2009)2 “The barmy notion was that if they ran into trouble with their repayments rising house prices would allow them to remortgage their property. It seemed a good idea when Central Bank interest rates were low.” (“The Sunday Times” January 4, 2010)1
Houses market began to cold and houses prices fell down and interest rates started to rise, “Between 2004 and 2006 US interest rates rose from 1% to 5.35%, triggering a slowdown in the US housing market.” (“BBC” 7 August, 2009)2 Borrowers got into trouble and many lenders who could hardly afford their mortgage payments when interest rates were low, started to default on their mortgages. When borrowers started to default on their loans, the value of investments (bonds or assets are bundled into portfolios – or CDOs) plummeted resulting in huge losses for financial institutions globally. People with sub prime mortgage faced negative equity; this led to banks and lenders no longer grantee that loans could be paid back. Due to this “Credit markets freeze, as banks are reluctant to lend to each other, not knowing how many bad loans could be on their rivals’ books.” (“BBC” 7, August 2009)2 The Credit Crunch began.
In the mid of 2007, the impact of the losses in the subprime mortgage markets triggered surprising turmoil throughout the international financial system. “When borrowers started to default on their loans, the value of these investments plummeted resulting in huge losses for banks globally.” (“The Sunday Times” January 4, 2010)1 These crisis spread with amazing speed to other markets and even to the financial institutions which had no direct contact to the subprime mortgage market. The magnitude of the problem was becoming ever more apparent, several US sub prime lenders had filed for bankruptcy. The global nature of the problem became obvious in “August 9 2007 when bad news from French bank BNP Paribas triggered sharp rise in the cost of credit, and made the financial world realize how serious the situation was.” (“BBC” 7 August, 2009)2 Withdrawals were suspended by investors from two of its funds because it was not able to valuate the assets that they contained due to the lack of liquidity in market suspended withdrawals by investors. Confidence of the many financial institutions was shaken, and the stock market witnessed systemic weakness across financial sectors. The share prices for large, small, and investment banks all significantly dropped down and between July 2007 and March 2008 they lost their prices about a third of their value. Due to lack of confidence and stopped trusting on each other banks, inter-bank lending was disrupted. “Central banks including the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank released billions of dollars worth of cash into the money markets to increase liquidity in an attempt to maintain inter-bank lending, but this strategy had limited effect”. (UK Mortgage “Credit Crunch”) 6 The US sub-prime mortgage market by financial institutions has been revealed around the world, a number of spectacular banking casualties have occurred, including Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers in US, Northern Rock and Bradford and Bingley in the UK. Bank solvency, damaged investor confidence and declines in credit availability had an impact on global stock market, during late 2008 and early 2009 where securities suffered large losses. Economies worldwide slowed during this period as credit tightened and international trade declined.
The ‘Credit Crunch’ has affected everybody in the UK; the effects of the turmoil that has hit the financial markets in the UK have been reflected in a number of ways, affecting both financial institutions and consumers. Turbulent of financial market affected UK economic activity through number of channels. The most obvious is perhaps the price and availability of credit, but other factors such as increased uncertainty, reduced business and consumer confidence, fall of assets prices, lower output of financial services sector and decreased external demand all have important implications for UK economic growth. The mortgage market in the UK also seriously affected as in other countries by the credit crunch resulting from the downfall of the US sub prime mortgage market. Between 1996 and 2006, in a period of relatively low interest rates, the average house price in the UK almost trebled. (UK Mortgage “Credit Crunch”) 6 Banks and other lenders started to hold money. UK being one of the major financial centers of the world has taken a huge beating. Thousands of jobs have been lost and investors have lost millions of pounds in stock market, Credit crunch has resulted in a sharp drop in rising of unemployment in UK. “The rise in the headline rate of unemployment to 5.5% took it to its highest level since early 1999.”(BBC News 17 September 2008)7 “As a result of the continuing credit crisis, the interest rates at which banks lend money to each other are, unusually, far above the Bank of England’s base lending rate. And the banks are finding it much more difficult to raise money from credit markets for mortgage-backed securities, that has made it uneconomic for some institutions to carry on offering mortgages and thousands of products have been withdrawn already this year”. (BBC News: 2, April 2008) 8 The credit crunch has also resulted in UK bitter relationship between banks that are very unwilling to lend each other and this has largely affected the mortgage industry. Banks greatly depend on cash transfer to finance the loans of their borrowers/customers. With the drying up of these loans, mortgage deals have become impracticable in the recent years. Many of UK banks bought lots of mortgage debts from US mortgage companies, when the US mortgages sector started to default it affected UK banking sector a lot of UK banks lost their money. The inter-bank rate not only raised but it was almost not possible to get additional funding for banks and other financial institutions. The trust simply vanished from the market creating panic among financial institutions, thus leading to credit crunch.
Northern Rock plc was the largest financial institution in its north east region home base and United Kingdom’s largest retail banks. In the start Northern Rock public limited company was established in 1850 as a Northern Counties Permanent Building Society and in 1865 one more society was established as Rock Building Society. (“The Sun” 14 September 2007)3 Both Rock and Northern Counties Permanent Building Society served and an exclusively Northeastern membership. Both were prospered in the later decades especially after the legislation enacted in the building Society Act of 1874, which gave both the societies a more solid legal footing. In July 1, 1965 Northern Counties Permanent Building Society and Rock Building Society joined together the movement toward industry consolidation and converted into Northern Rock Building Society. (“The Sun” 14 September 2007)3 Northern Rock Building Society took a position as the northeast region’s leading financial institution offering beyond its concentration on home mortgages offering variety of saving and other traditional banking products. Between 1970s to the end of century, Northern Rock Building society got the assets and members of some 53 other building societies, several of these acquisitions came in 1990s. Northern Rock Building society acquired the assets and membership of Lancastrian Building Society in 1992 and the following year it added Surrey Building Society to its accounts. In 1994 Northern Rock Building Society also acquired North of England Building Society. The merger of these societies gave Northern Rock Building Society an additional 400,000 members and leading six percent of the home mortgage market, and Northern Rock Building Society became top ten of the United Kingdom’s building society. Northern Rock remained close to its home mortgage lending core and soon it became a leader in the re-mortgaging market, attracting new members seeking Northern Rock’s competitive interest rates. Northern rock Building Society formed joint-venture with Britain’s Guardian Royal Exchange in 1996 to sell its Guardian Insurance products through Northern Rock’ Branch network and added insurance products, later added life insurance products through a distribution agreement with Legal and General. In 1996 Northern Rock Building Society announced that it was preparing to go public limited company with the approval of its members in October 1996. Northern rock Building society promoted approval of their members by offering them one of the industry’s largest share packages, 500 shares to each member in spite of the amount of their holdings (which at the time public offering was worth more than £1,500) (funding universe “Northern Rock plc” ) 9 “In April 1996 Northern Rock Building Society’s chairman, Robert Dickinson, announced the formation of the Foundation as part of its plans to become a plc. The proposal was to establish a charitable body with approximately 15% of the issued share capital, and a covenant of 5% of the new plc’s annual profits”. (“Northern Rock foundation” History) 4 In April members of Northern Rock building society approved the conversion, and In October 1997 both the bank and the Foundation became a reality. As Northern Rock Society turned in bank it changed its name to Northern Rock Plc, “listed on the London Stock Exchange and authorized under the Banking Act 1987”.(ezee 4 u “Northern Rock”) 10 The conversion also resulted in the establishment of The Northern Rock Foundation, a charitable body which is entitled to receive approximately 5 per centA of the annual consolidated profit before tax of Northern Rock plc”. (“The Sun” 14 September 2007)3 “Northern Rock core business is the provision of UK residential mortgages funded in both the retail and wholesale markets. It also provides a range of other services, mainly related to its core activities Products offered by Northern Rock include: Mortgage Lending, Household Insurance, Personal Lending, Retail Savings, and Commercial Mortgages.” (AAA-loans “Northern Rock Building Society”). 11 In February 1999, Northern Rock plc launched personal load packages such as the company’s offer of mortgages exceeding property values. (Funding universe “Northern Rock”) 9 Northern Rock rank were in the top 15 of the country’s retail banks and it rank near the top, posting as much as ten percent of the total English market for home mortgages. The new Northern Rock plc took a position as north east region’s leading financial institution by offering people beyond its concentration on home mortgages, different savings and other traditional banking products. Northern Rock plc widely admired for its cost efficient structure, by emphasizing telephone and postal based banking over branch office banking, and it operated an extensive network of 100 branch offices which basically served as sales offices for the company’s products. “By promoting more cost efficient banking including the closing of some 25 branch offices to consolidate its branch office work.” (Reference for business “History of Northern Rock”) 12 Northern Rock plc quickly gathered industry approval with its tight management, highly competitive products and cost-efficient structure. Northern Rock plc also encouraged its customers to abandon in person transactions in favor of the company’s telephone and ATM services. “Prudential and Standard Life announced their intention to enter the home mortgage business. Since more than half of Northern Rock’s new mortgage business came from the re-mortgaging market which most likely could be easily attracted away from the company by any more competitive package Northern Rock took steps to ensure its competitiveness.” (Funding universe “Northern Rock plc”) 9 In 1998 Northern Rock made a major mistake “when suddenly Northern Rock decided to consolidate its range of products from nine separate accounts to just three accounts unfortunately, the company only informed its customers on the day of the conversion and suddenly 400,000 customers found their savings receiving much lower interest rates than their previous accounts.” (Reference for business “History of Northern Rock plc”) 12 Northern Rock maintained a withdrawal penalty if customers wanted to transfer their savings to company’s new higher bearing accounts. The result was a public relations fiasco in the face of an Office of Fair Trading investigation. Northern Rock was forced to back down, allowing customers to transfer their savings without penalty while giving back more than £ three million in lost interest, many of the company’s saving customers defected with drawing their savings altogether. (Reference for business “History of Northern Rock plc”) 12 In 1999 Northern Rock managed to restore its reputation by defending its earlier move as an industry wide practice. “Northern Rock instituted a ‘Saver pledge’ which included among other provisions, an undertake to inform customers of any changes even to inform them of new, higher interest bearing products as they became available.” (Funding universe “Northern Rock plc”) 9 Northern Rock was very successful its profit grew from 73 million pounds in 1997 to 443 million pounds in 2006. And its assets grew from 15.9 billion pounds in 1997 to 101 billion pounds billion pounds.(Northern Rock Annual report, 1998)13.(Northern Rock report, 2006) 14.
Almost all the economic sectors are affected by Credit Crunch in UK, “Confidence among business in the state of the UK economy has been hit by fears that the US house price slump will have global ramifications”.(“BBC News” 28 August 2007) 15 Northern Rock plc was the first victim of credit crunch “The crisis has destroyed the credibility of Northern Rock, Britain’s fifth-largest mortgage lender” (The Sunday Times: 23 September 2007) 16 During a time of crisis in financial system the political environment including legal and regulatory has a great impact on any business where trust and confidence in each other is very important. In UK, financial system is regulated by tripartite system of regulation between the bank, the FSA and the treasury their roles are clear although but there was no overarching authority when crisis struck. (BBC News: 18 December 2008) 17 The Crisis started in Europe when French bank BNP Paribas suspended its three investment funds with exposure to trouble US subprime markets on 09 August 2007. (“BBC News” 28 August 2007) 15 Northern Rock had a business plan of securitization mortgage. (Borrowing heavily from the world money markets, from this borrowed money extending mortgages to customers and resell these mortgages to international capital market). In 2007, due to credit crunch demand from global investors of securitized mortgage fall, the money which should have been raised from securitization Northern Rock was not able to rise from capital market. So Northern Rock asked Bank of England for emergency financial support and Bank of England granted. The BBC ran a report on 13 September as an exclusive, that Northern Rock had been to the BoE for funding, this was leaked to the BBC from inside the Tripartite (FSA, BoE and Treasury) the source was unknown and then reported by the BBC reporter Robert Peston. “The BBC reveals that Northern Rock has asked for and been granted emergency financial support from the Bank of England, in the latter’s role as lender of last resort and Bank of England granted its financial support to the Northern Rock”. (BBC News: 5, August 2008) 18 Due to this news Northern Rock suffered a great damaged. This news caused so much panic among Northern Rock customers; they thought they would lose their savings customers were lining up outside Northern Rock Bank branches to take their money the next day. “THOUSANDS of Northern Rock customers besieged branches to take out cash yesterday and this morning amid fears the bank was set to go bust”. (The Sun: 15 September 2007)19 People just wanted to withdraw their money from Northern Rock bank, an estimated £2bn withdrawn from Northern Rock over the first weekend after BBC NEWS report.(Guardian: 7 November 2007) 20 “Thousands queuedA outside branches across the countryA as customers tried to make itA inside before the earlier closing hours.A Police were called to branches in Sheffield andA Glasgow? Where an estimated 300 people were inside the branch to access their accounts when it closed at midday. The Manchester city centre branchA closed at midday, butA up to 30 customers were inside an hour later trying to access accounts”. (The Sun: 15 September 2007)19 Billions of pounds were withdrawn by Northern Rock customers from Northern Rock Bank. (The Guardian: 7 November 2007) 20 Those customers who were unable to go to the northern Rock bank were turning to Northern Rock’s website, they were tried to log into their accounts on Northern Rock website but due to heavy traffic, customers could not log in to their account Northern Rock communication channel also failed. (E Consultancy: 17 September 2007) 21 The confusion inaccessibility of accounts through internet and reports in media that depositors might lose their money created more panic among customers of Northern Rock. In The FTSE 100 Index on 14 September Northern shares opened 20A per centA lower, down 126p at 513p. (“The Sun” 14 September 2007)3 14 September 2007 Northern Rock says “extreme conditions” in financial markets forced it to approach the Bank of England for assistance. In a statement, the Bank, Treasury and FSA say they believe Northern Rock is solvent and that the standby funding facility will enable the bank to “fund its operations during the current period of turbulence in financial markets”.(BBC News: 5, August 2008) 18 “The Chancellor of the Exchequer has today authorised the Bank of England to provide a liquidity support facility to Northern Rock against appropriate collateral and at an interest rate premium. This liquidity facility will be available to help Northern Rock to fund its operations during the current period of turbulence in financial markets while Northern Rock works to secure an orderly resolution to its current liquidity problems”. (Bank of England: 14 September 2007) 22 “19 September 2007 The Bank of England said that it will inject £10 billion into the money markets to try to bring down the cost of inter-bank lending. 12 October 2007 Virgin Group put forward a proposal to rescue Northern Rock. Under the plans, Northern Rock would keep its stock market listing but would be rebranded as Virgin Money and The Virgin offer includes an immediate repayment of £11bn of the £25bn the bank owes the Bank of England, with the remainder to be paid over the next three years”. (BBC News: 5, August 2008) 18 11 January 2008 “Northern Rock agrees to sell £2.2bn, or 2%, of its mortgage assets to US investment bank JP Morgan”. (BBC News: 5, August 2008) 18 21 January 2007, the treasury announced plans to back a private-sector rescue of Northern Rock through the sale of Government-guaranteed bonds to pay off the lender’s £24 billion debts, and 4 February 2008 Virgin confirms a formal takeover proposal would see Northern Rock rebranded as Virgin Bank. Northern Rock’s board lodges a “self help” bid. (The Telegraph: 17 February 2008) 23 In February 2008 Northern Rock bank was taken into state ownership. “The nationalization of Northern Rock has been enshrined in law, the government has announced. The order bringing about the transfer to public ownership was made at 2307 GMT on Thursday – one minute after a parliamentary bill gained royal assent. It means all shares in Northern Rock have been handed over to the Treasury”. (BBC News: 22 February 2008) 24 The Northern Rock planned to repay the government debts within 4 years. 30 July 2008 Northern Rock began telling 800 employees that they were to be made compulsorily redundant as part of a programme of 2,000 job cuts at the state-owned lender the cuts are a blow for job prospects in north-east England where Northern Rock was one of the biggest employers. (The Guardian: 31 July 2008)25 In August 2008 Northern Rock announced bigger than expected losses in the first six months of 2008, £585.4 millions. (BBC News: 5, August 2008) 18 March 2009 Northern Rock repaid the some amount of loan Northern Rock’s successful mortgage redemption programme resulted in the Government loan reducing by £18.0 billion to £8.9 billion on a net basis, compared with £26.9 billion at 31 December 2007. (Northern Rock plc: Annual Report 2008) 26 A 23 February 2009 Northern Rock announced that “Northern Rock to offer up to £14 billion of new mortgage lending over next two years. The Company is repaying the Government loan ahead of target”. (Northern Rock plc: “Stock Exchange Announcement”) 27 “Potential buyers of Northern Rock bank are Virgin Money, National Australia Bank and Santander has been sounded out on a possible deal. The private-equity giants Blackstone and Towerbrook are also thought to be examining the opportunity”. (The Sunday Times: 26 April 2009) 8
November 2007, Bank of England governor Mervyn King’s apparent criticism of Chancellor Alistair Darling’s handling of the affair with Northern rock. Mr. King criticized Northern Rock’s chief executive, Adam Applegarth. “The mortgage bank boss had suggested in front of a parliamentary committee that Northern Rock’s troubles could have been eased if the Bank had followed the lead of central banks in Europe and the US and injected liquidity into the market.” (The Guardian: 7 November 2007) 20 February 2009, Emma Foody, who was due to join the Northern Rock graduate scheme before the news broke. She blamed the BBC reporter Robert for “creating a kind of hysteria”. But Peston told her: “I absolutely believe that my broadcast made absolutely no difference to where Northern Rock ended up.” (The Wire: 19 February 2009) 30 June 2009, The Lords’ findings mirror the report of the House of Commons Treasury Committee, which said that the tripartite financial authorities had been insufficiently prepared to deal with Northern Rock’s difficulties and needed to communicate better with each other.(BBC News: 01 June 2009) 31
A credit crunch is an economic situation in which loans and investment capital are hard to get. It was started from the US in 2005 due to the subprime mortgage where US banks gave high risk loans to poor credit history. Unfortunately US base rates rose significantly 1.25% to 5.35%, in the start of 2006. Due to this people could not pay their mortgage and started to default, banks put up their houses for sale, so many people were default and so many houses were sale on the market this created more supply than their demand and houses prices fall down. During this period, banks and other lenders become wary of issuing loans, so the price of borrowing rises, often to the point where deals simply do not get done. Many banks and lenders started bankrupt. Northern Rock bank was first casualty in the UK, the bank which ran successfully about 100 years. In 2007, due to credit crunch banks were reluctant to lend to each other and Northern Rock was not able raise capital from money market. So Northern Rock asked Bank of England for emergency financial support and Bank of England granted. The main cause of Northern solvency was leakage of this news that Northern Rock asked for and been granted emergency financial support from the Bank of England reported on BBC. This news spread panic among northern rock customers and the problem with the northern rock web site created more panic. Northern rock customers started withdraw their money from Northern Bank. Billions of pounds were withdrawn from northern rock. In February 2008 Virgin formal takeover proposal would see Northern Rock rebranded as Virgin Bank. Northern Rock’s board lodges a “self help” bid. In February 2008 government announced that Northern Rock bank was taken into state ownership. Virgin Money, Santander and National Australia Bank are Northern Rock bank potential buyers.
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