Source AP ©

People still withdraw money from troubled mortgage lender Northern Rock

Worried depositors again lined up to withdraw money from troubled mortgage lender Northern Rock.

Brown made his first comments on the bank's woes amid a highly visible effort from ministers to calm public panic, after the government's promise to guarantee all savings held by the bank.

Treasury chief Alistair Darling met with leaders of the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority to discuss developments and said no other British banks or mortgage lenders had reported difficulties.

Brown's government moved to guarantee deposits held at Northern Rock after it requested emergency funds from the Bank of England, the first British bank to apply for the aid in 15 years.

"The decisive action we have taken means that the deposits of Northern Rock customers are guaranteed," Brown said. "It is because of the strength of our economy that we have been able to take these measures."

He acknowledged the bank appeared to have been hit by the global credit squeeze sparked by U.S. banks granting house loans to Americans with poor credit histories.

"This is a set of financial problems that have happened in America, spread to Germany and Europe and now we are seeing some instances of that in Northern Rock in the United Kingdom," Brown said.

Speaking at a citizens' forum event in Birmingham, Brown said Britain had "an economy that will continue to grow, continue to create jobs and continue to have low inflation and low interest rates."

A few hundred customers lined up at stores across Britain Tuesday to withdraw their savings, but Northern Rock said the panic was easing, reporting short lines at only four of its 76 branches by midmorning.

Call centers handled about 3,500 customers by midmorning, compared to nearly 37,000 by the same time Monday, the company said.

Sir Callum McCarthy, chairman of the Financial Services Authority, called the continuing withdrawals "irrational."

"We are in strange and exceptional circumstances. It is difficult to legislate on questions of confidence," McCarthy said.

Alan Holmans, a research associate at the University of Cambridge's department of Land Economy, said many depositors had been confused by the government's response.

"The assurance from the Bank of England should have been sufficient," he said. "But those kinds of subtleties are lost once people get worried about whether they'll actually lose anything."

The central bank announced Tuesday that it had pumped 4.4 billion pounds (6.4 billion EUR; US$8.8 billion)- into money markets, in the form of a two-day securities repurchase agreement.

Northern Rock shares were up more than 11 percent at one point Tuesday before falling back to an 8.2 percent rise on the London Stock Exchange, a small rebound compared to two previous trading days when shares fell more than 30 percent per session.

Mortgage lender Alliance & Leicester, which saw its shares drop 15 percent on Monday, was up 32.7 percent. Bradford & Bingley, another major mortgage lender, rose 6 percent after suffering an 11 percent drop a day earlier.

Many analysts believe a takeover of Northern Rock is the ultimate solution, but there was no hint of a bid on Tuesday.

"I don't know what we will do with the money yet, but I don't trust what the government says," said Doria Watson, waiting in line with her husband at a Northern Rock branch in Kingston-upon-Thames, southwest London.

"We were here yesterday but were told we had no chance of getting in, so we are back today and will wait as long as we have to," she said.

"What the government has said gives us more hope, but there is still doubt and I am not taking any chances," said Joyce Hutton, who said she had stood in line Monday without success.

Darling announced late Monday that the government would guarantee the savings of Northern Rock depositors - which amounted to about 24 billion pounds (35 billion EUR; US$48 billion) before the crisis.

Hundreds had ignored earlier pleas for calm and joined long lines outside the branches in Britain and Ireland, seeking to withdraw their funds.

"They should have made this announcement on Friday or Saturday," said Janet Taylor, 63, who was waiting outside a Northern Rock branch in central London. "My confidence is gone."

Jennie Andrews, 38, a secretary, took her lunch break early to stand in line. She said shortfalls in pension funds and the failure of endowment mortgage plans to perform as advertised had made Britons wary.

"No one has confidence anymore," Andrews said.

European Union Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy, who oversees financial markets in the 27-nation bloc, said EU state aid rules shouldn't prevent U.K. authorities from managing the crisis.

"The U.K. authorities must do what they see fit," he said in a meeting with journalists in Paris.

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