By Hamish McRae
The period from early 1972 through to the end of 1974 was an extraordinarily tumultuous time for international finance. We had the break-up of the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate system and the shift to floating rates. There was the quadrupling of the oil price. UK interest rates surged to 15%, which as we noted at the time was the highest for at least 400 years. And we had the secondary banking crash. All this was happening alongside the explosive growth of the Eurocurrency markets, which we chronicled.
The views of five titans on the collapse of Bretton Woods
What made editing the magazine at that time thrilling was that it was largely written by contributors in the financial services industry. You had a front-row seat and many of the people who were writing for the magazine were on stage. We were tiny – I was the first full-time editor – and it was of course great fun to be working with Patrick Sergeant and Christopher Fildes.
I learnt a huge amount from both. It was Patrick’s genius to create Euromoney and his generosity to entrust an editor like myself to try and develop it. As for Christopher, he of course wrote the wonderful ‘Herbie’ letters, but was also a great guide and support.
But looking back, the most remarkable thing was the way, thanks to their gentle persuasion, the magazine managed to get people from the very top of the industry to pump out the copy. And those were the days when they wrote the words themselves, rather than getting some PR person to do it for them.
To give some flavour of this, take our August issue of 1972, when it became clear that the collapse of Bretton Woods would be hard to reverse. We had an extraordinary line-up of people assessing what might happen next.
Sir Alec Cairncross, former chief economic adviser to the UK government, warned of the dangers of floating rates. Dr VKRV Rao, economist and former Indian cabinet minister assessed the impact on developing countries. Sir George Bolton, who at the Bank of England and then as head of Bank of London and South America had been one of the key people in helping create the Eurodollar markets in London, lamented that UK trade was likely to move away from the Commonwealth as a result of the damage to the sterling area.
Quentin ‘Q’ Morris, group treasurer for BP, wrote about the impact on a big BP funding operation. Donal Carroll, chairman of Lloyds and Bolsa International, looked at the implications for branch banking. Dr Otmar Emminger, deputy governor of the Deutsche Bundesbank and Dr Kurt Richebächer, chief economist at Dresdner Bank, looked at the Deutschemark. And that was just a few writers in one issue.
The oil shock followed in October 1973 and ran through to 1974. The impact on the world economy was to push it into the most serious recession since the Second World War. From the banking industry’s perspective, there were two practical issues: what would be the impact of inflation in interest rates and how to recycle the surpluses of the oil producers back into the rest of the world economy.
As it turned out the recycling operation worked quite well, but the great inflation of the second half of the 1970s and early 1980s lay ahead. Our covers reflected those fears. We worried about indexing as a way of coping with inflation in our June 1974 issue and the plunge of the world economy into recession in the October one.
We put a lot of thought into the covers. Euromoney was of course only sold on subscription, rather than the newsstands, so a good cover would have no impact on sales. But we wanted subscribers to feel a sense of delight when the magazine landed on their desk, and one of the nicest jobs as editor was working with our talented designer, John Constable, in trying to present complex financial concerns in witty and attractive ways.
One of the other enjoyable features of those early days was seeing a business evolve. Because we were so small and the business was growing so fast, it would have been impossible for the editor not to have a keen feeling for the money side, as well as the editorial content. I cannot remember any serious clashes and I think we managed well to keep business interests from influencing the editorial.
But I do recall urging Robin Finch-Hatton, our advertising manager, to try and sell some more adverts so that I could persuade Patrick to let me go up from 72 pages to 80 pages and get a few more pieces in. And when Jenny Marten, our circulation manager, told us each morning how many more subs she had sold, we all cheered.
Favourite issue? I suppose October 1973, printed in time to be distributed at the IMF meeting in Nairobi, when we hit 160 pages, the largest we had ever done. Biggest problem? When a national printers’ strike in the UK meant that we had to print in the Netherlands to get an issue out at all.
And favourite cover? Probably June 1973, when we made a model Euromarket monster that the authorities were trying to tie down. They failed and the market went from strength to strength – as indeed did Euromoney – in the years that followed.
Hamish McRae was Euromoney's editor from June 1972 to December 1974, when he left to become financial editor of The Guardian. He now writes regularly for the Independent, the London Evening Standard and the Mail on Sunday.