You may have long noticed, as we did, that the first people to notice the current meltdown coming were women — from Citibank’s Meredith Whitney back in 2007, to Deutschebank’s Karen Weaver. Add to that roster now Gillian Tett, the Financial Times whiz who was turned into a journo 20 years ago during the breakup of the Soviet Union, went and got a Ph.D., and like Whitney, Nouriel Roubini and many others, saw trouble in the rise of  over-leveraged financial devices being used to mask toxic assets” more than two years ago.

She also writes like a dream. So it pays to pay attention to her column today, where she talks about the “Sisyphean task” before the leaders meeting in London this week:

As more toxic assets keep emerging, public confidence in the financial system keeps crumbling afresh. Little wonder. After all, the only thing more scary than the current scale of today’s banking woes is that, a full two years after subprime defaults got under way, policymakers and bankers alike remain confused about just how big the toxic rot really is, let alone when it might end.

Will today’s meeting provide any further clues? Don’t bet on it. The issue of toxic assets – or “legacy assets”, as the Americans prefer to say – barely features on the official agenda of the G20 summit. Instead, the topics that are grabbing the limelight are initiatives on public spending, banking pay or regulatory reform, including an eye-catching row about tax havens.

That is no accident. One dirty secret that hangs over today’s meeting is that there is still precious little global consensus about how to tackle the toxic woes. Some countries (such as the US) are trying to persuade banks to sell their bad assets; others (such as the UK) are trying to “insure” the banks against losses instead.

Meanwhile, several governments in continental Europe seem to be just holding their breath – and praying that the problem will magically disappear.

Read the rest; you’ll feel smart.  Besides, don’t you just love the term “toxic rot?”

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