Cablegate: New Chief Regulator Faces Baptism by Fire in Month of Crashes, Bounces and Bailouts

DE RUEHLO #2494/01 2751532
P 011532Z OCT 08



E.O. 12958: N/A


SUBJECT: New Chief Regulator Faces Baptism by Fire in Month of Crashes, Bounces and Bailouts LONDON 00002494 001.2 OF 002

1. (SBU) Summary: The global financial crisis, which has hit the UK particularly hard, has turned the spotlight on Britain's recently appointed financial regulator, Jonathan Adair Turner, who succeeded Callum McCarthy as Chairman of the Financial Services Authority. Turner's appointment was well-received by banking contacts and financial experts, who praised his competency and decades-long experience in working in the financial sector. Less than a month in his tenure, Turner, whose formal title is Baron Turner of Ecchinswell, has shown a willingness to aggressively confront financial sector problems, including implementing a ban on short-selling of bonds. End Summary.

Baptism by Fire ---------------

2. (U) Within days of succeeding Sir Callum McCarthy as Chairman of the FSA, Lord Turner issued a temporary ban on the short selling of financial stocks. The short selling ban, which will initially last four months, was implemented in an attempt to protect the fundamental integrity and quality of markets, he argued. Turner also said the ban was necessary to prevent the short selling from producing a self-fulfilling downward price spiral.

3. (U) Turner has been tasked by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, to undertake a review of all financial market regulations - including the operation of the Financial Services Authority (FSA). He has already begun reviews into aspects of the credit crunch, including liquidity, banks' remuneration schemes and capital requirements and has said he expects a more intrusive form of regulation will be necessary even after the credit crisis subsides. On remuneration schemes, Turner announced that the FSA will make banks more accountable for their bonus structures. While the FSA will not regulate how much is paid, it will compel banks found to encourage risky actions through their bonus structures to hold more capital. The FSA is also expected to begin consultation on plans to increase the deposit protection limit for savers from GBP 35,000 to GBP 50,000.

4. (U) Following the nationalization of Bradford & Bingley bank, Lord Turner said he was confident that other UK retail banks were well-capitalized and in a reasonable position. He added that the FSA would keep this situation under review and said that it has the ability, if necessary, to ensure that problems were resolved without risk to retail depositors. He has acknowledged that the FSA made serious mistakes in the past with regards to its oversight of the UK financial system. However, he said that its performance over the past year, including its supervision of Bradford & Bingley, has been effective. Lord Turner saw the failure to date of the U.S. Congress to pass the $700 billion rescue plan as a 'serious setback' but added that even without the plan, U.S. authorities had enough tools at their disposal to prevent major bank failures.

Appointment to the FSA -----------------------

5. (SBU) In May, Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling announced that Lord Turner would succeed Sir Callum McCarthy as Chairman of the FSA. Banking contacts told Econoff that bankers were extremely pleased by the appointment and that he was the best possible person for the position. In September, Lord Turner began his five-year appointment.

6. (U) In his pre-commencement hearing (July 2), Lord Turner told the Treasury Select Committee that his major objectives in the first six months would be to play a significant role in international discussions of key regulatory issues and to foster a close and effective working relationship with the Bank of England. He said he was surprised by the failings of the FSA during the crisis at Northern Rock and concluded that the FSA's formal processes were not right and that there were fundamental problems, including rapid staff turnover and a lack of bank visits. However, he praised the FSA's internal audit report for being open about what went wrong. In response to a question from the Committee about oil speculation, he said that there was 'no large accumulation of evidence that speculation was playing a major role' in the rising price of commodities. He added that it was difficult for any regulator to stop speculation as long as it was not market manipulation. However, he noted that the FSA was keen to expand its resources to minimize market abuse.

Biographical Detail -------------------

7. (U) Lord Turner grew up in Crawley and East Kilbride and attended Hutchesons' Grammar School. He attended Glenalmond College and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he took a double first in History and Economics and became President of the Cambridge LONDON 00002494 002.2 OF 002 Union. He was also Chairman of the university's Conservative Association.

8. (U) His career started at British Petroleum in 1979 and Chase Manhattan Bank from 1979-82 before he became a Director of McKinsey & Co. in 1994. From 2000, he joined Merrill Lynch, becoming a Vice-Chairman. He was Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) from 1995 to 1999.

9. (U) Lord Turner Chaired the Pensions Committee (2003-2006) which was tasked to review the UK private pension system and long-term savings. Its controversial final report, the 'Turner Report,' outlined his recommendations for the future of pensions in the UK. Key proposals included: increasing the state pension age for men and women to 68 by 2050; establishing a standing commission to monitor pension policy; and establishing a new National Pension Savings Scheme by 2010 in which people who did not have a workplace pension would be automatically enrolled.

10. (U) He was also Chair of the Low Pay Commission, which advised the government on minimum wage baselines, from 2002 to 2006. In January 2008, he was appointed Chairman of the government's Climate Change Committee, which provides independent, expert advice on how the UK can best meet its climate change goals. Turner will remain as Chair until the new year, at which point he will step down. He lectures part-time at the London School of Economics.

11. (U) In September 2005 he was created a life peer as Baron Turner of Ecchinswell in the County of Hampshire in recognition of his public service. TUTTLE

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