City slickers find their only respite at the bar

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The Independent Online

Rumour-mongering and rogue traders; buy-outs and bonus cuts: it's been quite a week for bankers. And, yesterday, as drizzle fell and storm clouds gathered over the capital, the pub was the only place the nervous denizens of Canary Wharf wanted to be.

They emerged from their offices, loosening their ties, to toast a long Easter weekend which, regardless of the turmoil which preceded it, will at least bring respite to anxiety. "We are meant to be at work but we've come here for some solace," a group of Lehman analysts said.

Lunchtime had just begun but they, along with many other suited drinkers, were on their fourth round of beers at the packed All Bar One branch under Reuters' FTSE-100 ticker.

"It's a pretty severe situation and everyone is blaming the bankers. We only work in the environment that we're given – if you really want to point a finger, you should be blaming the policy makers," they said.

Mervyn King's meeting with bank chiefs was of little comfort. "We're not really optimistic," said one. "The issue is outside the Government's control now. It's a global concern now."

As the bars all over the Wharf filled with thirsty office workers, market woes were the only topic of conversation. "I think it really depends on how quickly the Government is seen to act," said one HSBC employee. "It's interesting to note the difference between us and America. We were so slow over Northern Rock but in America, they bailed out Bear Stearns within a weekend. It was a good impulse."

But criticism was not only being directed at the powers that be. Fresh reports of rogue traders, market abuse and of bankers battling to retain their hefty bonuses seemed to have produced a climate of suspicion and internal paranoia. "I think a lot of people are profiteering off the back of the rumours," said one 41-year-old Barclays man. "There's a lot of scare-mongering."

Another Barclays banker agreed. "Everyone's nervous. There's a lot of market abuse going on, and the speculation makes it worse."

Some were trying to think positively. As Paul Preston, a 32-year-old trader for Cantor Fitzgerald, said: "It's not a good time, is it? But I'm not entirely despairing – whenever there are difficult times you hope things will get better."

And David Black, 29, from Lehman Brothers, agreed. Jostling for a place at the bar, he shrugged and said: "We've been riding high for a while. What goes up must come down."