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European bank shares rise slightly in reaction to eurozone rescue plan

The drastic rescue plan by the IMF may include a 50 per cent write down of Greek debt

Attempts to tackle Greece's debt problems by policy makers in Europe have led to a slight increase in bank shares across the continent.

Stock markets fell heavily last week, but there has been a slight recovery following reports that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are considering drastic rescue plans.

French banks rose on Monday, with BNP Paribas up 6 per cent and Credit Agricole up 3.5 per cent. Germany's banks are up 4 per cent, while in the UK, RBS rose 2 per cent and Barclays rose 1.8 per cent.

The plan being considered by the IMF may involve a 50 per cent write down of Greece's debt, according to reports. This would mean that private investors in Greek banks might have to accept a 50 per cent reduction in what they are owed.

The plan may also suggest increasing the eurozone bailout fund to €2 trillion (£1.7 trillion), which is four times the current level of the European Financial Stability Facility's €440 billion bailout fund. This would include an arrangement that would allow the European Central Bank (ECB) to lend along-side the fund.

European governments have placed a five to six week timetable on the plan, a reaction to the immediacy of the crisis.

In a speech to the Institute of International Finance on Sunday, the Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said that Athens will introduce new measures to fight the debt crisis, which threatens the European economy.

"We are ready to take the necessary initiatives at any political cost," said Mr Venizelos.

But worldwide and particularly European stock markets are expected to remain volatile.

"Markets are likely to remain cautious, even if it appears that European leaders do appear to be finally grasping the fact that the current situation cannot go on forever," said CMC markets analyst Michael Hewson.

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.