SLAM. Slam. Slam. Slam. Like a scene from a gathering of Mafia
dons, the doors of 30 black Lincolns slammed shut as their besuited
occupants stepped out into a Manhattan downpour – and into
a global financial storm.
That storm broke yesterday, with stock markets tumbling around the world. In London, the FTSE 100 plunged almost 4 per cent to 5204.2. Scotland's banking giants were among the biggest victims. HBOS slumped 17.5 per cent; Royal Bank of Scotland lost 12.2 per cent. In the US, the Dow Jones industrial average suffered its biggest fall since 9/11.
The collapse effectively began at 6pm last Friday. The place: the offices of the New York Federal Reserve. The occasion: an emergency meeting of the most powerful figures in American banking and finance aimed at staving off a massive bank collapse.
Those who stepped from their limousines to be present included Richard Fuld, the chairman and chief executive of Lehman Brothers; John Mack, the head of Morgan Stanley; Jamie Dimon, of JP Morgan Chase; Vikram Pandit, of Citigroup; Lloyd Blankfein, of Goldman Sachs; Bob Diamond, the head of Barclays Capital; and senior representatives from Mellon Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland.
"We are the biggest overseas bank in America", explained an RBS spokeswoman. "There was an 'all points bulletin' from the Fed and they called us in".
Awaiting them along one side of the boardroom table was the United States Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke – nicknamed Helicopter Ben for having slashed interest rates and showered Wall Street with money earlier this year to avoid the very disaster that was about to unfold.
Flanking him was Hank Paulson, the US treasury secretary, and Tom Geithner, chairman of the New York Fed. It was Geithner who opened the meeting – and presented Wall Street's finest with the fright of their lives.