November 9th, 2008
10:00 PM GMT
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LONDON, England - As the dust settles after an historic U.S. presidential election, the man chosen to be the next Commander in Chief cannot afford to pause and reflect upon the significance of his victory, let alone rest up after the most gruelling and expensive election campaign ever.

What advice would you give to anyone faced with the prospect of losing their job or their home?
What advice would you give to anyone faced with the prospect of losing their job or their home?

The domestic and international goodwill that Barack Obama enjoys today will be short lived.

The millions who voted him into office as an agent for change and the hundreds of millions more around the world who see him as a figure of hope - the man to restore their faith in the United States - face an uncertain economic future.

While Obama doesn't officially take office until January, he will be involved in decisions taken right now, today, particularly concerning the economy and the implementation of the multi-billion-dollar bailout plan.

He faces a daunting burden of responsibility. People have such high hopes, but as recession bites and thousands lose their jobs and possibly even their homes, his "honeymoon" period won't last long.

So, while the president-elect appoints some of the best and brightest of minds to his cabinet and gets to grips with sorting out the mess we're in, we want to draw on the bank of experience that is the CNN audience. You.

Presidents and economic hard times come and go and yet the world keeps turning. Having lived through "downturns" in the past, what advice would you give to anyone faced with the prospect of losing their job or their home?

Many of the people who brought Barack Obama to power were voting for the first time, perhaps too young to have lived through a period of economic gloom such as this.

Just how do you cope with debt and the associated stress? With unemployment and foreclosure?

Watch CNN's Sasha Herriman talk with Occupational Psychologist Dai Williams about how best to survive the downturn

October 14th, 2008
12:10 PM GMT
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LONDON, England – Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown blames city bankers for the "age of irresponsibility" that ultimately led to the global financial crisis. While announcing the effective nationalisation of three big British banks he attacked the "excessive risk taking" of some financial institutions.

One thing is clear: the age of 'easy credit' is over. Banks, we're told, will be tightening their loan criteria.

Fearing that this new financial landscape could leave ordinary people unable to secure loans and mortgages, the UK government says that the newly nationalised banks will be required to restore lending to 2007 levels.

The opposition argues that this will lead to a return to the record lending levels we saw before the credit crunch began to bite, and that people will once again be able to rack up more debt than they can afford to repay.

Not so says finance minister Alistair Darling, who insists he "does not want a return to the irresponsible problems of the past."

So why did I return home last night to find a mailshot from my bank containing credit card checks at an "attractive interest rate" (almost double the rate available this time last year), which I am free to use for "unexpected bills, home repairs or even a holiday?" And why has my credit limit increased?

I'm confused!

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Filed under: BusinessFinancial markets

October 8th, 2008
12:50 AM GMT
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LONDON, England - If, like me, you are one of the 350,000 British or Dutch nationals who have savings accounts with Internet bank Icesave, you're probably pretty angry right now.

Iceland's second-largest bank, Landsbanki, the parent company of Icesave, says that it has gone into receivership and that the Icelandic Financial Services Authority has appointed a receivership committee. The Icelandic government stepped in to take control of the bank on Tuesday to keep it afloat, just days after Icesave was posting messages on its Web site reassuring savers that the bank was solvent and immune to the worst effects of the credit crisis because it didn't have exposure to the toxic U.S. sub-prime mortgage market.

Today, Icesave's customers were greeted by a message informing them that the bank was unable to process deposits or withdrawal requests. If the company is liquidated thousands of customers like me, with deposits under £50,000, are likely to face a long and stressful wait to retrieve their money.

Lured by attractive Icelandic interest rates I had just under £10,000 of savings deposited with Icesave. We'd worked hard to put it by and intended to use the money for non- budgeted items like home maintenance and improvements, family holidays and car repairs. It's money that I don't need in the short term, unlike other Icesave customers who had pension funds and home purchase deposits invested there.

For many of the bank's customers today will have been their first taste of the effects of the global financial crisis. Let's hope we won't have to experience many more.

If you've been affected by the collapse of Icesave, I can't help you get your money back but I can offer you the opportunity to share your experience with us and vent your frustration. Were we foolish to be lured by the kind of interest rates that simply aren't on offer in the UK or the Netherlands? Who do you think is to blame? Hit the comment button below and tell me your story. Getting it out there just might help you feel a little less sore.

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Filed under: BusinessFinancial marketsIceland

October 7th, 2008
05:01 AM GMT
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LONDON, England – To look at the skyline behind our live shot position in the city of London you could be forgiven for thinking that the credit crunch has left the construction industry unscathed. There appear to be more cranes than tall buildings on the horizon.

But a quick straw poll of contacts, friends and family working in the sector suggests that Britain's constructors are actually finding the going pretty tough. Hardly an exhaustive scientific survey I know, but I thought you'd be interested to read what they had to say.

The chief executive of a publicly listed, national builder told me recently that while he was confident his company was well placed to take advantage of any recovery, the next 18 to 24 months were going to be painful. The rising cost of raw materials had already hit the bottom line and the severe slowdown, some might say almost complete standstill in new home construction was particularly worrying. Under his stewardship the company has built enough of a cushion to weather the most severe economic downturn, but what pains him most, he told me, is the very real possibility that he will have to let go of some of his loyal, longstanding workforce if there's no light at the end of the tunnel within the next year. He also worries that the employees of long standing suppliers would face a similar fate if he was unable to continue putting orders their way.

My good friend Jonathan Rubins, a director at Stephen Howard Homes, a medium sized regional house builder says that concern over the availability of mortgages and the fact that people are worried for their jobs has led to a significant stagnation in sales to the general public. However, the rental market, he says, is enjoying considerable growth. Thus while ‘buy to let' mortgages have become more difficult to obtain for smaller investors, landlords looking to build a property portfolio are finding that mortgages are still available at good loan to value ratios and are bringing custom his way.  This, he says, is a regional phenomenon. If his company were based anywhere other that the South East, he fears his outlook would be far less positive. 

My brother in law, Jonathan helps to run Taylor and Stapleton Engineering, a medium-sized family firm specialising in heating and ventilation. The good news is that there has been no noticeable slowdown in business orders for him ... yet. He is by no means complacent. He says that the commercial sector of the industry in the south east of England is being helped along at the moment by the construction of the 2012 Olympic venues. He is braced for a slowdown if and when it arrives but is confident in the company's specialist expertise. Even if new build orders slow there should always be a market in refurbishments, which need to be completed regardless of economic circumstances. Jonathan has however noticed pressure in terms of wage demands as employees struggle to cope with the increased cost of living with food, fuel and especially utility prices rising fast.

Francis Biro is one of those rare finds - a local builder who is so good at what he does that he seldom needs to advertise his services. Word of mouth and recommendation are what brought him to our attention and that of many other local families. Francis says that while he's not short of work yet, he is concerned about the lack of new enquiries. Not long ago he was getting at least one a week and always had drawings on his desk, the next job lined up and ready to go. Now he finds himself getting to the end of one project with no new work in sight. Fortunately, he hasn't yet found himself idle but worries that it's only a matter of time before he encounters gaps between jobs.

Francis hopes that as the housing market slows and people find it harder to move home, they will instead turn to people like him to extend their current property. The problem there is of course that loans for such projects will in all probability be harder to come by and perhaps prohibitively expensive.

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September 26th, 2008
01:10 PM GMT
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I doubt that even Hollywood could have come up a story line with as many nail biting, stomach churning twists and turns as we've seen in real life these past two weeks.

Could you see Bruce Willis playing Wall Street enforcer Hank Paulson?
Could you see Bruce Willis playing Wall Street enforcer Hank Paulson?

I won't list every plot development in the financial thriller of the decade. If your nerves are anything like as jangled as mine you could probably do without yet another blow by blow account of all the highs and lows.

As I write is reporting that negotiations over the proposed $700 billion bail out of the nation's financial system are on a knife edge. And so it goes on.

I don't know about you, but I could do with a little light relief.

So how about this? When Hollywood makes the inevitable blockbuster version of the events of September 2008, when superhero Hank saved the world from financial Armageddon, which of the world's celebrities would you like to see cast as the major players?

We had some fun with this in the office today. Let us know what you think and we'll read the best suggested cast lists out on air in a future edition of World Business Today.

Have a great, ‘restful' weekend!

September 21st, 2008
11:57 AM GMT
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LONDON, England – The party's over, the hangover is about to set in. Friday's relief at news at the U.S. government's bailout plan which sent stock markets soaring is set to be tempered this week by thoughts of what next?

Yes, Henry Paulson rode to the rescue of the world's banks by announcing that he was set to exorcize them of the toxic debts that were dragging them and us towards financial meltdown. BUT - and it's a big but - the devil will be in the detail.

Is Mr. Paulson going to pay the full write down cost of the bad debt when he takes it off their hands - at enormous cost to the U.S. taxpayer? Or will he play hardball for a discount to the market price - leaving banks to take more pain and reluctant to lend to each other and us? In which case, we're back where we started.

And of course Hank's plan still has to get through Congress. In an election year!

One thing is certain though: The banking industry is in the future likely to be subject to much tighter regulation - and tougher public scrutiny. That will impact growth and profits - and their willingness to lend us money. We're all likely to feel a little poorer in the years to come.

So, over five breathless days we escaped global financial meltdown by the skin of our teeth. With reality set to bite, the coming week is going to be a little less stressful, but no less interesting.

September 19th, 2008
12:18 PM GMT
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LONDON, England – If I had a pound for every time that someone has asked me to explain what "short selling" is over the past 24 hours then I'd be able to help the banks out of their "toxic" debt problem. I wrote at the start of the week when Lehman Brothers collapsed, despite frantic efforts to save it, that I'd never known a weekend like it.

Well, it's now Friday and I can firmly say that I've never known a week like it either.

Who'd have thought that in the space of just a few days we'd see two Wall Street icons effectively disappear; one of the world's biggest insurers being rescued by the US government; plummeting share prices; Britain's biggest lender forced into merging with a smaller rival; central banks riding to the rescue of a paralyzed financial system; a ban on "short selling" in Britain and the U.S.; and American authorities announcing a plan to rid banks of their debt?

I don't know about you, but this white-knuckle, thrill-a-minute week has left me completely exhausted.

But here's the thing.

Thanks to the relief inspired by news of the bailout plan - as I write at lunchtime in London - European share indices have bounced back to more or less where they were first thing on Monday morning.

Imagine this: a city trader has been away on a seven-day desert island vacation, away from phones and news media (unlikely I know – these people are permanently wired in, but bear with me on this.)

They will arrive back this coming Monday to find that colleagues are battle wearied and bruised, that associates have fallen by the wayside and that the financial landscape has completely changed.

But they'd also find that, eerily, share prices are pretty much just where they left them.

Surely they could be forgiven for thinking: "Did I miss something?"

September 17th, 2008
10:12 AM GMT
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LONDON, England – Our inbox has filled in recent days with e-mails telling us where our viewers feel that the blame lies for the collapse of Lehman Brothers and this week's market turmoil. A few examples ...

"The banks & insurance companies of the world have caused their own demise."

"The crisis on Wall Street is the result of fat cats who should be investigated on gross mismanagement."

"They've had it coming. There is simply too much speculative money being generated by unfettered financial institutions, money for which there is no real equivalent in goods and/or services."

"Good that the smug finance professionals who were on the gravy train will get a real jolt with this and hopefully many pink slips."

It's clear that there's little sympathy for the bank staff that have suddenly found themselves among the ranks of the unemployed.

But while the "smug, overpaid" investment bankers and "professional gambler" traders represent the public perception of the banking industry, the vast bulk of Lehman and Merrill employees are more modestly paid backroom staff.

There are thousands of sales people, secretaries, researchers, clerks, human resources and catering staff caught up in this, who had no involvement whatsoever with the complex financial dealings that led their employers into so much trouble.

With food, utilities, general living costs and unemployment all on the rise, and with Christmas and all of its associated expense just around the corner, perhaps we should spare a though for these "ordinary" guys and their families who are likely to find it tough going as they search for a new job in these uncertain economic times?

September 15th, 2008
10:38 AM GMT
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LONDON, England - Those of us who work in financial journalism have a slightly frazzled look about us today. It's been the most extraordinary weekend as Hank Paulson and Wall Street's top executives desperately attempted, and ultimately failed, to breathe life into ailing Lehman Brothers. I've experienced nothing like it in my 25-year career.

The demise of Lehman Brothers, the fire sale of Merrill Lynch – the next potential domino in the chain – and news of serious problems at insurer AIG have sent shock waves around the world. Three of the top five U.S. investment banks have now fallen victim to the credit crunch. These really are seismic events. As one commentator put it: "Tectonic plates are shifting under the foundations of the U.S. financial system," and we're all likely to feel the ground shake.

In London, the FTSE 100 index of leading shares fell nearly 3 percent in the first few minutes of trade. With the dollar tumbling both the Bank of England and the ECB said they would intervene if necessary to bring stability to the currency markets.

Our old friend David Buick of BGC partners, says the mood today on the trading floors in London is grim.

It's not so much the demise of Lehman Brothers that has sent shock waves through the City, but Hank Paulson's refusal to use public funds to sweeten any rescue deal and the realisation that we're still some way from finding out just when the cycle of huge write downs and failures will end.

Confidence, he says, is shot to ribbons. And after this unprecedented roller coaster of a weekend, so am I.

September 5th, 2008
01:04 PM GMT
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In these days of satellite TV, instant messaging and voice over IP we take it very much for granted that we live in a connected world. But just stop and think for a moment. Isn't it amazing? Here at CNN we slotted a new show into our schedule this week - World Business Today, anchored live out of our production centres in Hong Kong, London and New York. Andrew Stevens, Maggie Lake and I appear on the same screen at the same time to bring you and up to speed with the business stories that will impact your life.

It sounds a simple enough concept and the show itself is a great watch - but wait a minute. Think about it. Three people who see each other in person maybe once or twice a year, if they're lucky. Three colleagues thousands of miles and several time zones apart, working as a well-oiled team and appearing right there, live, on your screen, wherever you are in the world.

What does it take to make that happen? Well, you should see what goes on behind the scenes! Teams of journalists and technicians in four global locations (the show is vision mixed and directed from Atlanta) using innovative technology to collaborate, craft and broadcast a show that I'm very proud to be a part of. You should take a look sometime because as well as being a great watch, technically it really is amazing!

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