Looking back over past issues of Forecourt Trader I was amazed to see that it was exactly a year ago that I was writing about the fiasco at Northern Rock. Although we knew that the underlying cause of its collapse was rooted in America, the whole crazy goings on, and the sight of people queuing round the block to withdraw their funds, seemed to make the collapse of the Rock a very peculiarly British affair.
How things have moved on in the past 12 months! Now you go to bed at night not knowing which icon of the international financial world has managed to collapse during the time you were dreaming out your film star or sporting fantasies. Who knows what other bankruptcy or ’merger’ will have occurred by the time this article is published.
So what does Mo’gas think about this sorry state of affairs? Well, to be honest, while I’m very sorry for all the employees affected at the micro level, overall I have to admit to a feeling of ’serves you bloody well right’. Over the past few years it seems that the whole banking/investment bank/private equity system had become a way for a few people at the top to make a fortune while screwing the lives of hundreds of thousands of little ’insignificant’ people.
Let’s take over a solid, well-run conservative company, strip out its assets, pay ourselves a phenomenal wedge from the proceeds and then step back and watch the whole pack of cards come tumbling down. And we don’t even have to use our own money because there’s plenty of people fighting to lend us the funds just so they can get their own noses in the trough.
While the activities of these ’Barbarians at the Gate’ devastated those employees affected they didn’t, however, threaten to plunge the capitalist world into a financial black hole. What has caused the current crisis is the wholesale use of seemingly limitless credit to gamble on the future price of anything from HBOS’s shares to a kilo of basmati rice.
For those of us in the forecourt trade, the single biggest disaster has, of course, been the massive spike in oil prices. A few months ago most experts agreed that prices were soaring due to vastly increased demand from the emerging economies of China and India. Predictions abounded that once the barrel passed $150 it wouldn’t take long before it hit $200.
Amazing how that demand seems to have dropped by 30% in two months, isn’t it? Unfortunately for us in Britain, the massive unwinding of the speculators’ positions has come too late. Because successive governments (but especially this one) looked at the energy companies as a one-way cash cow, investment in our infrastructure has been minimal while there has been little incentive for exploration for new resources or development of technology to sweat existing assets. The result is that we are reliant on ’Johnny Foreigner’ for our domestic energy and, oh boy, they’ve had a field day by indexing everything to the price of oil.
When it goes up, of course! There seems little prospect of those recent 30% hikes in gas prices being reversed. And that, in my opinion, is what’s going to hurt us the most. In past oil crises, when the pole price has tumbled our punters have come flooding back. I fear that it will take a lot longer this time round. The last lot of energy price increases seem to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Our customers have suddenly realised that over the past few years their net disposable income has been whittled away to such a degree that drastic measures need to be taken.
When Aldi and Lidl see their market shares soaring and even the likes of Marks and Spencer have to start advertising on price you know there’s a perception of austerity about that hasn’t been seen in years. And I’m afraid that trips in the motor at the weekend or driving 50 miles to spend a couple of hours with Aunt Maude are way down the pecking order of importance.
Speculators... a pox on them!!