Marx said religion was the opium of the masses, but in these secular times I would argue it is hysteria that we crave. Witness the panic that the recent crisis in the international debt market has created – "Black Thursday" thundered the tabloid papers as traders' woes rubbed off on a scare-happy public.
Figures such as Richard Lambert, director-general of the CBI, warned that the risk of contagion had increased significantly, while shareholders acted as if it were unheard of for stock to drop. There were echoes of every previous panic, from the South Sea Bubble to the Long Term Capital Management debacle of 1998. Like LTCM, this current crisis demonstrates that the market is no longer controlled by private investors but by hedge funds. Consequently it is the "hedgies", with the banks, that have fielded most of the damage.
Last week saw the first casualties as many of the major banks' collateralised debt-obligation departments shrunk in size and senior executives at RBS, Barclays Capital, HSBC and Citigroup resigned. Furthermore, many banks have been massively over-recruiting and Barclays has already warned that the result will be redundancies at lower levels.
Yet for the 99.5 per cent of UK businesses that are small and medium-sized enterprises, most of which have little contact with the City, I believe there will be few repercussions. Most owner managers meet their bank just once a year and concentrate day to day on customer service, cost control and key staff. Running a "real" business means providing steady leadership, not changing direction just because the markets shift a few percentage points.
Companies such as these continually take the opportunity to re-evaluate processes and see where savings can be made. From switching mail providers to implementing automated procurement systems, savings can be achieved whether there is calm or panic in the City.Reuse content