Finance job losses set to accelerate warns CBI

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The Independent Online

Job losses in the battered financial sector are expected to accelerate sharply in the first months of this year as business activity and profitability fall at record rates, a Confederation of British Industry survey shows today.

Revenues and profitability in the industry have slumped to new lows as fee and net interest income drop at record rates, the CBI said. The financial crisis continued to spread to the wider economy as business with manufacturers, retailers and other commercial firms shrank at a record pace.

With sentiment falling, bad debts surging and a big majority of firms believing it will take more than six months for markets to return to normal, companies across the sector are hammering down costs and cutting investment.

The CBI said the survey results suggested job losses in the UK financial sector, which employs about a million people, would rise from about 10,000 a quarter in recent periods to up to 16,000 in the first quarter of this year.

John Cridland, the CBI's deputy director general, said: "2008 was the year the financial services industry would rather forget and unfortunately it looks set to remain under pressure in early 2009. As income and profitability have tumbled, there will be more job losses and cuts in investment, and stark implications for the rest of the UK economy."

Last week Cattles announced 1,000 cuts while Barclays cut more than 400 technology posts. Royal Bank of Scotland and the merged Lloyds Banking Group are among companies expected to announce big cuts in coming months. The survey, compiled with PricewaterhouseCoopers, illustrates the vicious spiral of the financial crisis's impact on the wider economy. After massive losses from toxic credit assets, the banks reined in business with households and companies, exacerbating the slowdown. With bad debts from pressurised borrowers surging, the financial sector is preparing to slash costs and jobs, putting further strain on the economy.

The CBI called on the Government to take action to maintain credit flows to industry to prevent otherwise healthy businesses from folding due to lack of liquidity. The authorities are looking at a range of measures including buying assets to free bank balance sheets and underwriting trade finance to ease cash flow strains. Mr Cridland said: "Viable businesses are finding the availability and cost of credit very restrictive. The shortage of trade finance is hitting many industries and businesses. The Government is going to have to take further steps to tackle these critical issues."

Excluding general insurers, whose confidence has increased, sentiment across the sector remained at 18-year lows. Confidence in the key banking sector fell to its lowest since the emerging markets crisis of 1998 as revenues contracted sharply.

Though the banks are rebuilding profit margins on loans, those gains are being wiped out by falling business volumes and swiftly-rising bad debts. HBOS highlighted the rapidly worsening climate last month with a dire trading statement showing a surge in non-performing loans in mortgage and corporate banking. Confidence among building societies has collapsed as the mutual lenders face the first fall in profitability for nearly 20 years.

Building societies are suffering from slumping mortgage sales, rising bad debts and extreme pressure on their ability to raise retail deposits with interest rates at all-time lows. Societies are usually reluctant to cut jobs but many more are expected to follow the Newcastle's announcement last week of 150 job losses.

Life insurers, securities traders and fund managers have all been hit by reduced business as a result of tumbling stock markets and are looking to cut costs and jobs. Across the financial sector, regulatory compliance is the only business area expected to attract higher spending amid a tough regulatory environment.