The chairman seems at a loss in response to the demand, “Show me the money”, and brushes off a suggestion that Professor Stephen Hawking could solve the mystery of financial black holes.

“All right, I give up – what have you done with it?” I asked the chairman of the imperviously-sized investment company Second Coming Asset Management as we met for a couple of pints of Hank’s Cunning Plan at The Back of a Fag Packet.

“My dear fellow, I can promise you I’ve never touched it, let alone done anything with it,” the chairman replied automatically. “Mind you, just for the record, what sort of ‘it’ are we talking about here?””All the money lost in the credit crunch,” I replied. “And before you go any purpler, I’m not accusing Scam of palming the full trillion or whatever it turns out to be – I fear that may be beyond even your particular abilities. No, by ‘you’ I meant the global financial industry at large.

“Look, I know what I’m about to say is going to expose my staggering ignorance of all things investment-related – something I’ve done so well to camouflage these past dozen years or so – and so I’d be grateful if we could keep this just between the two of us. You see, there are three questions that lately keep nagging at me and the first of these is – where is the money? Really, where has it all gone?”Somebody must have ended up with it, so are we saying it’s those unscrupulous short-sellers, who I believe when they’re not destabilising the world kick puppies for fun? Or maybe it’s those unscrupulous property speculators? Naturally, in either scenario, we ignore any part played in this mess by clueless governments, incompetent regulators and, ahem, any punter who took on too huge a mortgage.

“So, if it is, say, the short-sellers making a killing, which with banks being nationalised every day can’t really be the case across the board, then the money still exists. And if it still exists, then history would suggest it is only a matter of time before it ends up in the hands of housebuilders and car makers and purveyors of giant motor yachts and ultimately finds its way back into the system.

“Or are we saying it’s simply vanished from the planet’s accounts as that leads to my next stupid question? If I have this straight – and since it’s the only aspect of the crisis the genius Paulson appears to have grasped, I’m assuming it’s the easy bit – all the world’s banks are too scared to lend to anyone they suspect of having a black hole in their accounts, which is pretty much every bank in the universe.”

“Every one except Scambank,” the chairman interjected proudly.

“True,” I conceded. “But to be fair, that’s only because you don’t have any depositors and the credit crunch hit before you could get around to any black hole construction in the first place. Anyway, as I was saying, nobody’s lending to anybody except at the sort of rates advertised on daytime TV and so global liquidity has dried up.

“But even allowing for the fog of securitisation, surely most losses are at an inter-bank level so can’t we just ask someone clever like Stephen Hawking – hey, we’re talking about black holes, so let’s ask the professor himself – to look into who owes what among the banks and then arbitrage it all off. You owe me this toxic asset but I owe you that one so let’s call it quits – what’s wrong with that idea?””Where to begin?” the chairman sighed. “For starters, there’s the trust issue you mentioned – no way would I open up Scam’s books to a bank unless I was selling.

“Then, of course, every bank secretly hopes it can somehow just outlast the opposition and maybe pick up some assets on the cheap – especially now that competition counts for nothing. Finally, Armageddon or not, that simply isn’t how we do business.

“Look, it’s complicated stuff so I shouldn’t worry about unearthing any answers – though did you say you had a third question?””It’s more parochial – and it’s never come close to affecting me,” I said. “But what happens to the newly nationalised Bradford & Bingley’s personal finance media awards and, if they go ahead, how will the winning hacks feel being rewarded for their efforts by the Government?”