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The government seems to be finally waking up

The last couple of weeks in the financial markets have been the most volatile in living memory.

The collapse of Lehman Brothers, the takeover of Merrill Lynch and HBOS and the nationalisation of the largest insurer in the US all announced within 48 hours was enough to send shockwaves the size of a tsunami across global financial markets.

Add to this the bailout of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and you would be forgiven if you thought it was something written for a horror movie.

Closer to home, many of us were in shock as we watched HBOS’ share price slide at a rate of knots, hitting a low of 88p.

In little over a year it had lost 93% of its value and some say it was the victim of short sellers.

Short sellers have been around for a number of years and in my opinion while they can drive a company’s share price down, they are unlikely to be able to drive a strong business to collapse.

The reality is that HBOS was in trouble and had been for some time. It needed to raise 164bn of funds in the next few months but the capital markets have seized up and the cost of cash is high.

I have to give some credit to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose apparent intervention helped the Lloyds TSB takeover complete in record time.

We saw none of the dithering that we experienced with the Northern Rock debacle, so it is reasonable to say that in this case the government did a decent job.

The US government announced the mother of all rescue packages with a range of measures likely to cost in the region of $700bn.

It plans to effectively remove toxic mortgage assets from banks’ balance sheets to free up much-needed capital.

On the back of the news, stock markets across the world rallied and the UK market recorded the single best day in trading ever.

The financial cost of all this volatility is huge but there is a much more damaging aspect in that many jobs are in jeopardy and many have lost all the bonuses that they took in the form of shares over the years.

If there is any good news to be taken from the last couple of weeks it is that the government seems to have woken up to the fact it can no longer sit on its hands.

Let’s hope governments across the globe put their heads together and steer us out of this period of uncertainty.

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