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Don't bank on Britain

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Blimey. Forget Citi, AIG and all the others. We’ve got bigger problems. We know boomer retirees are big on travel. If your clients are planning vacations in the not-too-distant future, England’s the place (still old, not so merry, but very cheap). Talk of England’s bankruptcy – yes, you read that right – is no longer relegated to survivalist cranks. It’s garnering serious discussion and getting quite a bit of mainstream attention. From yesterday’s Telegraph:

The country stands on the precipice. We are at risk of utter humiliation, of London becoming a Reykjavik on Thames and Britain going under. Thanks to the arrogance, hubristic strutting and serial incompetence of the Government and a group of bankers, the possibility of national bankruptcy is not unrealistic.

When we go beyond corporate bankruptcies to include entire countries (problems in Reykjavik notwithstanding) well … I’m not really sure what to say. And remember, this is a member of the G-8. A portfolio manager with an overseas play told me a few years back he was into Icelandic housing bonds (he said they were “cool.” I pardoned the pun). I thought it was pretty exotic, but at the time managers were going anywhere and everywhere to find alpha. We know what’s happened in Iceland since then, and managers have pulled back to so-called safer plays. But can anyone honestly tell me where that is? Banks, insurance companies, England; mention any of these terms and conservative is the first thing that pops to mind, and yet all are in trouble.

If you’re thinking this is nothing more than my well-documented hysteria, consider famed investor (and George Soros partner) Jim Rogers’ comments in today’s Financial Times:

“It’s simple, the UK has nothing to sell.”

As if to emphasize Rogers’ point, yesterday the pound plunged to its lowest level against the dollar since 1985. Strange times indeed.


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