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Thanks for the memories

Crumbs, has it really been a year since Lehman Brothers ceased to be? Doesn’t time fly when you are in the middle of a credit crisis? I suppose it falls to me to write a few words on the subject. After all, it’s not as if there has been much in the media about it, has there?

Well, of course, there were a few bits here and there in the run-up to the anniversary and then one or two more on the day but what about the definitive view on “Lehman Brothers – 12 and a half months on,” eh? Now there is something an aspiring columnist could really get his teeth into.

But then again, why bother? Granted, things got a bit hairy for a while as the biggest bankruptcy in US history plunged markets into chaos, triggering a crisis of confidence in the global financial system, pushing investors and governments into panic mode and forcing central banks around the world to inject trillions of dollars into the mix to avert economic disaster.

But hey – was it really so bad? Here we are 12 and a half months on – as I think I may have mentioned – and it is business as usual once more, is it not? Funds are mostly heading back in the right direction and the Footsie’s up past 5,000. What price 5,500 by Christmas? 5,800? No, you’re right – 6,000 is a much nicer, rounder number.

Easy now. Put the pen down and back away from the keyboard – that’s not really what I think. Mind you, there seem to be more than a few people whose current market view runs along those lines. And yet there is precious little evidence to suggest that those who most need to take on board valuable lessons on the dangers of excessive borrowing, excessive lending, excessive bonuses and so forth have done anything of the kind.

As JK Galbraith observed in his book on the 1929 market collapse, The Great Crash: “It is evident that the capacity of the financial community for ignoring evidence of accumulating trouble, even of wishing devoutly that it might go unnoticed, is as great as ever.”

Perversely, at the same time – and I know I am rather having my cake and eating it here – there are rule-makers who seem dead-set on legislating the wonderful world of finance back into the Stone Age. James Tobin may have been a Nobel laureate but his eponymous tax suggestion shows that he did not get out into the real world terribly much.

As for Lord Turner of Ecchinswell’s contributions to the debate on how best to keep the big bad banking industry under control, well, as one article asked, “Is Lord Turner ‘socially useful’?”

Still, to follow his lordship’s example of raining on the general parade – and acknowledging in advance that one should be very careful what one wishes for – a gentle market setback round about now might not be the worst thing in the world. Nothing too drastic, you understand – just enough to remind the more enthusiastic members of the investing fraternity that this chapter of stockmarket history has a few more pages and a few more twists and turns in it yet.

One of the lines I am most proud of overseeing into any publication I have ever edited – and indeed one I rather wish I had come up with myself – was written by freelancer Sally White in 2004 in a piece I had commissioned as a way of bragging about how Bloomberg Money had flagged up a number of flaws in the split-cap sector way back in 1999.

First, she quoted another classic Galbraith line from The Great Crash: “These speculative episodes have occurred at intervals throughout history and the length of the interval is perhaps roughly related to the time it takes for men to forget what happened before.”

Can the length of that interval for some people now really be little more than a year? It is a depressing thought but, as Sally rather poetically concluded in her piece: “To borrow a little from Galbraith, the useful task of the journalist is to keep the memory green.” Couldn’t have put it better myself although, of course, I wish I could.

Julian Marr is editorial director of marketing-hub.co.uk

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