Weekend of talks that fell short of finding a solution

THE BARINGS CRASH THE RESCUE BID `The news was - for the City - a far greater blow than BCCI'
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Last Friday, Eddie George, the Governor of the Bank of England, began what was about to be his shortest skiing holiday. "I arrived in Avoriaz to be told as I entered the chalet that the telephone was ringing - and that was the message to tell me there was a problem," Mr George said yesterday.

Leaving his family to enjoy the French snow, Mr George caught the next flight to London.

The message had been sent to Avoriaz after a noon meeting between Peter Baring, chairman of Barings, members of his board and Rupert Pennant- Rea, the former journalist and deputy governor of the Bank. Mr Pennant-Rea got straight onto his boss to alert him to the looming disaster.

The last time there was such a serious banking crisis, the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, Mr Pennant-Rea was editor of the Economist and Mr George was deputy governor.

The news Mr Baring brought was - for the City - a far greater blow than BCCI. He had been told on Thursday evening of horrific losses in the Far East that threatened the existence of the merchant bank.

Mr Pennant-Rea and Mr George decided to try a rescue. The Chancellor was informedand by mid-afternoon on Friday the first group of key bankers was meeting Mr Pennant-Rea and Brian Quinn, the director of the Bank responsible for supervising the banking system.

There were four big meetings of bankers - on Friday night, on Saturday and two on Sunday - but most of the business was done privately in a series of meetings in which bankers, lawyers and officials were shuttled between the Bank's very private parlours.

Most of the stars in the City firmament were at the Bank at one time or another during the weekend, but the most visible was Sir David Scholey, chairman of Warburgs, a director of the Bank of England and a brilliant tactician in a crisis, who was credited with managing some of the most sensitive negotiations.

Andrew Buxton, chairman of Barclays, played another key coordinating role. Others included Derek Wanless, chief executive of NatWest, senior executives from Lloyds and HSBC, Lord Rockley, chairman of Kleinwort Benson, John Craven, chairman of Morgan Grenfell, George Malinckrodt, chairman of Schoders, who was acting as adviser to its stricken rival, Barings - and Sir Chips Keswick, chairman of Hambros. A stream of senior US bankers flew in from New York.

The Bank's plan was to organise a consortium led by the main clearing banks to rescue Barings. But from the start the real obstacle was that nobody wanted to take on the open ended risk of more losses on the disastrous derivatives contracts.

On Friday night, Bank of England officials began frantically to telephone the Far East to locate investors in the futures and options that cost Baring so dearly. The officials hoped these investors might have a commercial interest in buying out Barings' contracts and putting a ceiling on its losses. But this hoped faded during Saturday.

Unsuccessful approaches were also made to the Japanese Ministry of Finance to see if Japanese investors could be found interested in buying out the contracts to cap the losses. The carrot Mr George dangled was that a successful deal would take the pressure off the Japanese stock market.

According to one participant, most of the bankers present spent Saturday back at their offices drawing up plans to limit the damage from their own exposure to Barings.

Sunday brought more intensive negotiations in which Mr George and Mr Pennant-Rea rang contacts round the world in an attempt to set up a syndicate to cover Barings' open ended liability. But the price put on such a deal was too high - as much as $700m.

Mr George's final shot on Sunday was to canvass investors that own large Japanese holdings to see if they would buy parts of Barings. Mr George said the Bank came close but the impossibility of finding a way to cap the losses killed the plan.

The Court of the Bank of England assembled at 6.30pm for a dismal progress report. Half an hour later the bankers met for a 90 minute final discussion. A few had suggested the Government or the Bank should take responsibility for putting a cap on Barings losses to make a rescue possible. But most saw that as politically impossible, and the governor did not even put it to the Chancellor.

At 8.30pm, the rescue was abandoned and just after 10pm the decision was published.