The New York Times - LONDON — An island nation that bulked up on debt and lived beyond its means. A plunging currency. And a financial system edging toward nationalization.
With the pound at a multidecade low and British banks requiring ever-larger injections of taxpayer cash, it is no wonder that observers have started to refer to London as “Reykjavik-on-Thames.”
While that judgment seems exaggerated, there are uncomfortable parallels between Iceland’s recent financial downfall and Britain’s trajectory. Equally important, news that widening bank losses in Britain have necessitated another round of government life support provides a stark example to the United States.
Washington’s attempts to stabilize financial institutions have failed so far, as well. And now the Obama administration, along with the rest of the world, could watch Britain to see what a bank nationalization might look like, and what it might suggest for American banks.
Ordinary Britons have a more basic worry. After relishing the boom that transformed the drab United Kingdom into Cool Britannia, they fear that the disheartening economic stagnation of the 1970s might return.
The pound, a symbol of British independence from the Continent that is revered nearly as much as the queen, is now down nearly 29 percent against the dollar from a year ago.
There has been a steady drumbeat of gloomy economic news for months, but the mood in Britain has darkened starkly in recent days.
On Monday, Royal Bank of Scotland warned that its 2008 losses could hit £28 billion, or $38 billion, even as Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced a second bailout package for the troubled banking sector worth tens of billions of pounds. Ultimately, the British rescue effort could cost at least £350 billion, with some estimates ranging far higher.http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/22/business/worldbusiness/22pound.html?partner=permalink&exprod=permalink
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