Bradford & Bingley - any takers?

Even before the tumult of last week Bradford & Bingley was looking like a very sick puppy indeed.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

It's been a nightmare of a year for the lender that specialised in buy-to-let and 'self-certificated' - i.e think of a number you'd really love to earn each year and then write it on the application form - mortgages. Now there are strong rumours that the Financial Services Authority is quietly drawing up plans for B&B's rescue by a white knight if its battered share price falls too much further. Trouble is, nobody seems to want to know.

The shares have fallen a total of 90% over the last 12 months and weren't helped when it announced grim first-half results in August - £26.7m in the red - which revealed it had also been hit by an £18m mortgage fraud. (We fear there may be quite a few of these to come out of the woodwork as things shake out in the mortgage industry generally.) The outfit lost its CEO Steven Crawshaw due to ill health, and a £400m rights issue was so poorly supported by existing shareholders that great chunks of B&B have wound up in the pockets of half a dozen high-street banks who couldn't shift them for love nor money.

Added to this, arrears and repossessions are on the up as the wide-eyed, amateur buy-to-letters of the last few years take fright and go running for the hills. The FT certainly feels pretty cheerful about B&B's prospects this morning: 'Pretty much everyone seems to agree that in an independent, stock market-listed sense, this is the end for Bradford & Bingley. It's a former bank.' Much like Monty Python's Norweigan Blue.

It all leaves one wondering about the lettings market generally. We know the rental market remains buoyant at the moment because house and flat purchases are drying up faster than a puddle in Dry Gulch during a summer heatwave. All these people in the UK - and the population is growing like topsy - have got to live somewhere. Maybe in line with financial institutions on both sides of the Atlantic they are expecting the government to move in and help us all live in council houses.

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