In the early 1980s the Office of Fair Trading brought a case against the London Stock Exchange, citing a range of restrictive practices which included:
- fixed minimum commissions for stock trades
- separation of brokers (who acted as agents for customers) and jobbers (market makers)
- foreign membership of the stock exchange was not allowed
As a result the Exchange changed its rules which came into effect on 27 October 1986 (30 years ago today).
The effect on the financial industry in the UK – especially the City in London – was dramatic, such that this process of de-regulation is also referred to as Big Bang.
One of the greatest changes was the acquisition of many established City firms by foreign (mainly American) banks. This led to great debate of something called the Wimbledon Effect – i.e. whether an economy needs strong domestic competitors or if it can thrive by merely providing the forum for foreign-owned institutions.
Overall, London has thrived as a financial center since Big Bang and the deregulation has been seen as beneficial for financial markets. Although in 2010 Nigel Lawson, the Chancellor in 1986, admitted that the global financial crisis starting in 2007 was an unintended consequence of Big Bang. The problem being that previously investment banks had been careful with their own money, but merger with high street banks gave them access to depositors’ funds. and incorporation as limited liability companies removed the personal risk for managers (the principal–agent problem).
Below is an extract taken from George G. Blakey’s magisterial A History of the London Stock Market 1945-2007 to give a flavour of the market in 1986, the year of Big Bang.
Markets opened the New Year with a broad advance, but after hesitating on the political upset created by the Westland affair, which led to the resignation of two Cabinet ministers, Michael Heseltine and Leon Brittan, and a 1% increase in base rates to steady the pound after a sharp drop in the oil price, they recovered to close the month at record levels. There was no doubt that sentiment was aided by the sight of predators being willing to compete with each other and pay ever higher prices for what had once been thought of as rather dull companies. Thus Imperial Group and Distillers went for £2.5 billion each, some 25% above the opening bids, in hard-fought and no holds barred contests between determined bidders.
Markets were under something of a cloud in November and December as one scandal after another came to light. First of all Geoffrey Collier, a senior executive at Morgan Grenfell, resigned after insider dealing allegations. Then US arbitrageur, Ivan Boesky, who had been an active participant in many of the year’s big bids in the UK, was fined $100 million by the SEC. After weeks of rumours, December saw a DTI investigation ordered into the Guinness takeover of Distillers, closely followed by the revelation that Guinness had “invested” $100 million in Boesky’s arbitrage pool of funds. On the last day of the year, Roger Seelig, the Morgan Grenfell executive who had looked after the Guinness bid, resigned from his post at the bank.
Although these events were truly exceptional in the light of the high standing of the persons and the companies involved, they did not prevent a good Christmas rally developing in a market which also had to absorb the £5.6 billion offering from British Gas. The advent of dual capacity and automated quotations with Big Bang in October seemed to have no particular influence on the course of markets at the time. The FT 30 closed the year at 1313.9, well below its peak, but still a gain of 15.5%, while the broader- based All Share and FTSE were up 20% and 23.5% at 835 and 1679 respectively. Government Securities were up a modest 1.25% at 83.62. The Dow recorded a gain of 22.5% closing at 1896.