Steven Fine: My business week

The managing director of investment bank KBC Peel Hunt fears the crisis still has far to spread
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The Independent Online

I've got a feeling that the Northern Rock affair is not a cut-and-dried case of the Bank of England helping out and could be the germ that spreads the crisis contagion outside the financial services sector.

I don't wish to criticise too widely but Northern Rock is nothing short of an embarrassment for the UK. It happens to be the scapegoat, but you can bet your bottom dollar that our children and grandchildren will be studying the "Run on the bank" in 2007. I would be surprised if the brand existed in a year's time.

None of we traders feel safe at the moment. If the market goes up, we have a sense of direction – and if it is going down, at least we know what to expect. But this shortage of liquidity means that even a single percentage change can mean a step change in direction and we don't have a clue what is going to happen.

Markets like good news, – and they can deal with bad news – but what they cannot handle is uncertainty. It's contagious.

Historically, periods of extreme volatility result in markets falling. We are wading our way through the interim results period for most UK companies – a busy time of year without this additional mess. The last few months have altered business dramatically as the landscape since books closed has changed and this has yet to be factored in.

In trading terms, volumes are lighter, exacerbating volatility, making price swings greater and hence profit and loss swings more extreme. In terms of sectors, the world and its wife are avoiding financials, banks and real estate, and buying oils and resources.

I would rather look elsewhere. Small caps have been overlooked, marked down and had ratings slashed. Better to be in equities or cash right now? Cash is king.

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