A decade after the credit crunch hit UK banks have made so little progress

This week has opened with an outbreak of cognitive dissonance in my home country the UK. It opens with a worthy enough spirit and principle from the Treasury Select Committee of HM Parliament.

Regulators must act to reduce unacceptable number of IT failures in financial services sector, warns Treasury Committee.

There is an obvious flaw in the “Regulators must act” opening as we so often see examples of them being fast asleep although of course the official term for this is “vigilance.” Indeed I note that in the comments section last week the issue of regulatory capture had arisen again which for newer readers is where an industry infiltrates and takes control of its regulator. It does not have to be an industry as we see how HM Treasury alumni are every single Deputy Governor at the Bank of England which is officially “independent” of er the Treasury…..

Moving back to the issue at hand the TSC summarised it here.

The Treasury Committee launched its IT failures in the financial services sector inquiry on 23 November 2018. It followed a series of high-profile service disruptions within the financial services sector, most notably the TSB IT migration in 2018. Issues following the migration caused significant disruption to customers for a prolonged period of time, and we have an ongoing inquiry into Service Disruption at TSB1. There have also been many
other incidents, including those at Visa and Barclays.

They do not say it but the prolonged failure at TSB was especially embarrassing as it was supposed to be a new bank but in reality was a bureaucratic exercise exhuming it out of the bloated Lloyds Banking Group. So it turned out to have all the same and maybe worse problems than the other banks as its IT meltdown showed.

It was far from just being the TSB though.

IT failures, or incidents (used interchangeably), within the financial services sector appear to be becoming more common. Over the past 18 months there have been major
incidents at TSB and Visa, along with a litany of incidents at other firms. This increasing trend is recognised by the FCA, which stated in 2018 that “outages in the financial services sector are becoming more frequent and publicised” and that “the number of incidents reported to the FCA has increased by 187 per cent in the past year”.

This matters more these days as we switch to banking online.

Research by UK Finance found that 71 per cent of UK adults used online banking in 2017, and that this trend has been increasing. At the same time, the number of high-street
bank branches has been falling, with a 17 per cent reduction in the number of branches between 2012 and 2018.

The Problem

The real issue here is the fact that the UK establishment have been happy to use taxpayer’s money and the policies of the Bank of England to provide a put option for banks and their management. The subsequent zombified banking sector has no great incentive to improve its IT which was so bad when the credit crunch hit that the Bank of England felt it could not cut interest-rates below 0.5%. This was because the creaking IT infrastructure could not handle 0% let alone negative interest-rates. When this did happen at the Cheltenham and Gloucester which was part of Lloyds Banking Group the work around was that the capital owed was reduced to save a 2001 A Space Odyssey HAL 9000 style moment from happening.

Next comes the idea of the Regulator acting quickly and decisively as Citywire points out.

Calls for the Financial Conduct Authority to offer ‘stronger and faster intervention’ are at least partially ‘justified’ the regulator’s chief executive Andrew Bailey has admitted.

There was this issue.

At the beginning of the year mini-bond manufacturer London Capital & Finance went bust after the FCA ordered it to freeze its accounts, following what appeared to be many years or warnings about the business.

Which led to this bit.

It remains unclear how the firm was able to promote unregulated mini-bonds via regulated Sipp and ISA wrappers for many years.

Sometimes it is so bad it is funny.

It also faced much ridicule after banning former Co-operative Bank chair and church minister Paul Flowers in 2018, five years after the organisation collapsed and the tabloids dubbed him  the crystal Methodist due to his drug use.

More recently this has hit the headlines.

The shuttering last week of Woodford Investment Management after a series of big bets went sour and put it in breach of FCA rules on liquidity limits will be freshest in the mind.

Also in a rather familiar fashion the regulator seems to have overlooked this.

Former star fund manager Neil Woodford and his business partner reaped close to £20m in dividends in the last financial year amid a crisis at their investment house, according to an FT analysis ( Financial Times )

HSBC

The story here was supposed to be an HSBC boom driven by its involvement in the Far East. You may well recall its regular hints of its head office leaving the UK when it wants to put pressure on the UK government. Of course being a major bank in Hong Kong is not quite what it was so let me hand you over to the South China Morning Post.

HSBC, one of three lenders authorised to issue currency in Hong Kong, said on Monday that its third-quarter profit fell 24 per cent as it reported weaker results in its retail banking and global markets businesses.

The bank said its business in the city remained “resilient” despite a weakened business climate in its largest market, as months of protests and civil unrest have sent the city’s economy into a “technical recession”.

“Resilient” eh? I did not realise that things were quite that bad! The share price is down over 4% today at £5.90 and whilst HSBC has done better than other banks until now the future does not look quite as bright.

Barclays and RBS

From CNBC.

The British lender posted £292 million in net loss attributable to shareholders for the three-month period ending Sept 30. Data from Reuters’ Eikon predicted a loss of a £19.2 million for the quarter. Barclays had posted a £1 billion net profit in the same period last year.

The shares have risen due to rising Brexit hopes recently but £1.70 is still very poor.

From City-AM.

RBS reports an operating loss of £8m for the nine months to the end of September 2019, falling from £961m in the same period last year.

A challenging quarter in the NatWest Markets division, where total income plunged by £419m to £150m in the wake of flattening yield curves, also dragged down the bank.

This leads to this response.

The mis-selling and other charges overshadowed underlying progress at the bank

Oh no sorry. That was from November 2nd 2012 on here!

Metro Bank

I hardly know where to start with this one, so let me point out that the £8 share price of this summer has been replaced by one of £2

Comment

The fundamental issue here is that we are now more than a decade away from the credit crunch. The major flaw in bailing out the banks was that they then had no incentive to change. Even worse that we would repeat the mistakes of Japan and end up with a zombified banking structure. If we look at the world of IT we see the Bank of England confirming it here.

The TFS was designed to reinforce pass-through of a cut in Bank Rate from 0.5% to 0.25% and in doing so
reduce the effective lower bound in the UK…….The existence of the TFS meant that the MPC reduced its estimate of the effective lower bound from 0.5% to
close to, but a little above, 0%. ( Governor Carney June 18th )

So in spite of a sweetener of £116.7 billion the banks still cannot cope with 0% interest-rates. Ironically they may be doing us a favour of course.

Next comes the way that PPI has been a type of Helicopter Money QE for the UK economy and here we get on a rather dark road. That a quid pro quo for the banking scandals and bonuses as well as the put option for bank survival is that they put some of the money in the hands of the UK consumer.

Podcast

 

 

 

Why are the UK banks still doing so badly?

The last few days have brought us some equity market falls which were most marked last night in the United States when the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 900 points for a while. One irony was provided by those who noted that during the day the S&P 500 index had returned to where it has been on the first Monday in August last year. Putting it another way we are at 2840 less than 200 points below the 3029.5 all time high of the S&P which provides a perspective on this.

Tonight at 7p ET— Tune in for a CNBC Special Report: Markets in Turmoil on the worst day for stocks this year.

But there is one sector which has certainly not been hitting the heights at any time recently but does seem to join in with the falls so let me start with my own country the UK.

Royal Bank of Scotland

RBS has been a regular subject on here as the general theme has been that each year there are promises of better times which always turn out to be a mirage. I spotted on Friday that it was one of the worst performers ( -6.54%) on the UK stock market and that of course is from a heavily depreciated share price. If we look at the report from I News we heard a familiar tune.

Donald Brown, senior investment manager at Brewin Dolphin, said: “RBS is a very different bank to what it once was. Profits for the first half of the year beat expectations, confirming that the group is on a path to redemption.

I agree that it is a different bank but perhaps not quite in the way Mr. Brown means as after all redemption seems to be promised very year. But wait there is more.

RBS, which has been majority owned by the taxpayer since the crash in 2008, unveiled a bumper £1.7bn payout for shareholders, after pre-tax profit leapt 48 per cent to £2.7bn, beating all forecasts and marking a turning point for the bank, according to its outgoing chief executivr Ross McEwan.

Another turning point, how many is that now? Also I News was keen to emphasise this.

Around £1bn of the £1.7bn payout will be returned to the taxpayer owing to the Government’s 62 per cent stake in the bank.

But I am afraid that for whatever reason the I is singing along with Kylie.

I’m spinning around
Move outta my way

This is because tucked away there is some cold reality.

However, the bank warned that it was “very unlikely” to hit its longer-term profitability targets after a tough second quarter that saw revenue hit by intense competition for mortgages.

The rhetoric of Brewin Dolphin we noted earlier makes me wonder if they are trying to explain being long of the shares which have fallen below £2 this morning. As for those of us who are UK taxpayers here is Reuters from June last year.

the government made its initial and largest capital injection into RBS, at a price of 502 pence.

The loss for taxpayers would be even greater when taking into account a break-even price of 625 pence per share estimated by Britain’s National Audit Office, which includes the cost of financing.

I am grateful to @Mattbrookes3 for pointing out how this was represented by the UK government back in the day.

City Minister Lord Myners yesterday claimed that the ownership of RBS and LBG – which were both rescued from collapse by the Treasury in the credit crisis – represented a “nice little nest egg” for the taxpayer. ( Evening Standard September 2009)

 

Some nest egg! Also we have a reversal of modern financial theory as these days there is no interest only capital gains. Whereas with RBS the UK taxpayer gets interest ( the dividend) but also ever larger capital losses.

HSBC

Yesterday it joined the theme of departing chief executives.

HSBC (HSBA.L) ousted John Flint as chief executive after just 18 months in a shock move the chairman of Europe’s biggest bank said was needed to speed up progress on priority areas such as the turnaround of its U.S. business. ( Reuters )

This is something we see regularly in troubled banks where leaders appear get handsomely paid and then depart to be replaced by someone else in the way we press repeat on a song on our MP3 players and I-Pods. He is not the only one departing.

HSBC will also cut around 2% of its workforce or around 4,000 jobs this year as it seeks to reduce costs,

This morning the shares are up 10 pence as we wonder if the US $1 billion buyback of shares has already begun. Just for clarity I would make that sort of thing illegal under the ultra vires rules. Along the way we note that what should be our strongest bank is facing troubles.

it forecast a gloomier outlook for its business, with an escalation of a trade war between China and the United States, an easing monetary policy cycle, unrest in its key Hong Kong market and Brexit.

Tucked in there is something which I will return to later as we remind ourselves that the easing of monetary policy started to help the banks.

Lloyds Banking Group

There is some relief for UK taxpayers here in that we got it off the books. But it too seems to be on a road to nowhere.  Here is that state of play as described yesterday on The Motley Fool.

The Lloyds Banking Group (LON:LLOY(LSE: LLOY) share price has frustrated shareholders for years. After the plunges associated with the great financial crisis of the noughties, the stock first rebounded to its current level near 50p around a decade ago!

It is 50.75 pence as I type this. In fact the view expressed on the Motley Fool was that things might get even worse.

Remember that Horta-Osório said Lloyds’ performance is linked to the health of the UK economy. You bet it is, and the economy is the one big thing that could change everything for the stock. Lloyds is about as cyclical as a cyclical stock can get. If the UK economy takes a dive along with the worldwide macro-economy, my conviction is that Lloyds’ profits will bomb, along with its share price and the dividend payments.

Barclays

By contrast Motley Fool is rather upbeat on Barclays.

Earlier this week, the bank reported its highest profit for the first half of its financial year in nine years. Underlying profitability, which strips out the effects of one-off charges and other costs, hit £3.1bn. Attributable profit came in at £1bn and earnings per share for the six months were 12.6p.

Yet the willingness to actually buy the shares seems to be pretty much non-existent. At 147 pence the share price is close to the lows seen since the original hit from the credit crunch. The heady days when it rallied after the Arab bailout to above £3 are a dim and distant memory now. Also it reminds me that if you break the rules for £5000 you are likely to go to jail but for £5 billion it is “move along now please, nothing to see here.”

Comment

In short this is a Zombie Jamboree.

Back to back, belly to belly
I don’t give a damn, I done dead already
Oho back to back, belly to belly
At the Zombie Jamboree ( Harry Belafonte )

How? There have been two main factors. The first is that what was used to rescue the banks which was cuts in interest-rates and bond yields ( QE) is now crippling them. We are back to the theme of a junkie culture as the (H)opium which rescued the banks now brings in one clattering side-effect. In a world of low and zero interest-rates there is no interest income and without interest income the old banking model is effectively kaput. As it happens the new righter capital rules have provided a further squeeze forgetting that there is very little blood to be squeezed out of a zombie.

Next comes the lack of real reform which is a consequence of the “privatisation of profits, socialisation of losses” theme. Bank directors do extraordinarily well financially and then move on in a repeating cycle but as we have noted above the banks get weaker.

Thus we come to a very disappointing conclusion which is that even after watching the Japanese experience of a balance sheet recession we mostly repeated the same mistakes.

 

Deutsche Bank and RBS continue to headline the zombie bank era

A feature of the credit crunch era has been like an episode of Hammer House of Horror. This has been the march of the Zombie banks where a burst into normal life is always promised but never seems to actually arrive. More than a decade later in some cases we find ourselves observing them still being on the march. Apart from problems which this raises for shareholders there are three big issues from this. The first is economies which are tilted towards the preservation of what in Lord of The Rings style we have named “The Precious” which we can see in two ways. One is economic policy which the European Central Bank is demonstrating by responding to the Euro area economic slow down with yet another banking subsidy called the TLTRO. The other is the way that bank profits are privatised and losses socialised by the way that the UK still has some £555 billion of gross debt and £305 billion of net debt on its books from the bank bailouts. Third is the effect of Zombification itself as described by the Bank for International Settlements last September.

Using firm-level data on listed firms in 14 advanced economies, we document a ratcheting-up in the prevalence of zombies since the late 1980s. Our analysis suggests that this increase is linked to reduced financial pressure, which in turn seems to reflect in part the effects of lower interest rates. We further find that zombies weigh on economic performance because they are less productive and because their presence lowers investment in and employment at more productive firms.

It is of note they think this has been going on for over 30 years although as the central bankers bank they may well be trying to deflect us from the growth of banking zombies over the past decade.

Two clear cases of zombiefication have been Royal Bank of Scotland and Deutsche Bank and the last 24 hours has brought a flurry of news on both. So let us start with my old employer which is the main bank in Germany.

Deutsche Bank

Here is the BBC from yesterday explaining things which we knew all along.

Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank have abandoned merger talks, saying the deal would have been too risky.

Both banks said the deal would not have generated “sufficient benefits” to offset the costs of the deal.

The German banks only entered formal merger talks last month.

The German government had been supporting the tie-up, with reports saying Finance Minister Olaf Sholz wanted a national champion in the banking industry.

It is interesting how Too Big To Fail or TBTF is now apparently being a “national champion” isn’t it?

Combined, the banks would have controlled one fifth of Germany’s High Street banking business with €1.8 trillion ($2tn; £1.6tn) of assets, such as loans and investments.

The real issue all along was not the assets but the liabilities especially at Deutsche Bank! Anyway perhaps someone at the BBC has a sense of humour.

The deal was seen as a way of reviving the fortunes of both banks.

If we bring ourselves forward in time to this morning then the story has moved on.

Net revenue at its sprawling global investment bank, which accounts for more than half the German bank’s overall revenue and which relies heavily on its bond trading earnings, fell 13 percent to 3.3 billion euros (£2.8 billion).

The German flagship lender posted a net profit of 201 million euros, up 68 percent from a year ago but hardly making up for a net loss of 409 million euros in the fourth quarter as the bank battles stiff competition from U.S. powerhouses. (Reuters).

The share price has responded with a nearly 3% fall to 7.27 Euros. This continues the trend of the last year where it has lost 38% and beyond that because if my chart is any guide the pre credit crunch peak was over 94 Euros. The response on social media to me pointing out these matters has varied from that is 7.27 Euros too high to this from Nicholas Dubois.

Because in my eyes, the market is emotionally driven at the moment in DB, not seeing through the fundamentals – why was the stock up more than 5% yesterday and 10% higher from here ? Noise. CET1@13.7%, VaR only 27m (!) – chance of a lifetime.

How many chances of a lifetime have we had now to invest in banks? As a punt at a low price this can work as for example the Greek banks have shown recently but as a long-term investment you only get poorer.

RBS

Again the news started yesterday. From Sky News.

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) boss Ross McEwan has quit, saying the time is right to leave as it is in a “much stronger financial position”.

The news was announced ahead of the bank’s annual general meeting in Edinburgh – five-and-a half years after he took over the reins of the part-nationalised lender. ( Sky News)

Somewhat irreverently I suggested that he was clearing the decks so he could apply to be Governor of the Bank of England. Although this from Simon Jack highlights that the reality is of a rather odd sort of resignation.

He is staying till 2020. 12 month notice period

That is rather different to my days in the City of London where if they could not persuade you to change your mind you got sent home with your belongings in a black bin liner.

As to his tenure there are clear issues because RBS is still mostly owned by the taxpayer and whilst it does now have profits here is its own statement from earlier.

RBS reported an operating profit before tax of £1,013 million, compared with £1,213 million in Q1 2018 primarily reflecting £265 million lower income, partially offset by £73 million lower operating expenses.  Q1 2019 attributable profit of £707 million compared with £808 million in Q1 2018.

Up is the new down again, or something like that. We get a deeper perspective from the share price which has fallen 11 pence today as I type this to 239 pence. UK taxpayers of a nervous disposition might like to sit down before reading the next bit.

 still way below the 502p the Labour government paid for them at the height of the crisis. ( Sky News)

Here is the Daily Telegraph from those days back in 2008 and the Chancellor was Alistair Darling.

The Chancellor said the taxpayer would not lose out.

“The taxpayers’ interest is being protected,” he said.

“I’m very clear that in return for all this, the taxpayer has got to see some upside. In relation to lending to small businesses, in relation to mortgages… that’s important too.”

 

Comment

The official story about the banks has sung along with Carly Simon.

I know nothing stays the same
But if you’re willing to play the game
It’s coming around again

They are always about to turn the corner on what turns out to be a Roman road. Also I note the mention of small business lending from a decade ago which has also been a grim theme. Those who have followed my updates on that issue will now that the promises here have required this to believe them.

Are you drunk enough?
Not to judge what I’m doin’ ( Calvin Harris and Sam Smith)

The subject reconvened in the summer of 2012 when the Bank of England claimed it was supporting the area but in fact reverted to type and pumped up mortgage lending by giving the banks yet another subsidy. Meanwhile lending to small and medium-sized businesses has required the use of the establishment’s ultimate admission of failure the use of the word “counterfactual”

I fear that Deutsche Bank is even worse because it has pretty much carried on regardless with the stories about past losses on derivatives never going away. Or to put it another way if big investors really believed they are just an illusion or imagination the share price would be nowhere near here. Now we face another slow down with the banks still singing along with Lyndsey Buckingham.

I should run on the double
I think I’m in trouble,
I think I’m in trouble.

It all comes down to the fact that the socialisation of losses helped to stop a change in behaviour as for so many the party mostly just carried on. The scandals of what it did to smaller businesses and the 2008 rights issue show that the law of the land often turns its blind eye to the banks as well.

 

 

 

 

Deutsche Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland continue their zombie bank march

We find ourselves in yet another version of banking Monday and let me immediately note an issue highlighted by moves at the UK’s main zombie bank which is Royal Bank of Scotland or RBS. From the BBC.

A UK payment processing firm that used to be owned by Royal Bank of Scotland has been sold in a deal worth $43bn (£32bn).
WorldPay has been bought by Florida-based Fidelity National Information Services (FIS) for $35bn in cash and shares, plus WorldPay’s debt.

FIS chief executive Gary Norcross said “scale matters in our rapidly changing industry”.

WorldPay was sold by RBS as a condition of the bank’s financial crisis bailout.

The value of the FIS purchase means Worldpay is worth about £8bn more than RBS.

Some perspective is provided by the way WorldPay is worth much more than RBS. It also means that if it has kept it UK taxpayers would have done a lot better as we see yet another shambles delivered by our political establishment.

This is from Finextra in August 2010.

RBS was told to sell off WorldPay – or Global Merchant Services – by the European competition authorities last year as a condition for joining the UK government’s asset protection scheme.

Meaning RBS got this.

Royal Bank of Scotland has inked a deal to sell just over 80% of its WorldPay payments processing unit to private equity firms Bain Capital and Advent International.

The agreement is for an enterprise value of up to £2.025 billion including a £200 million contingent consideration, with RBS keeping a 19.99% stake in the business.

As you can see whilst money was earnt at the time it was much, much less than would have been received today. Oh and the remaining part was sold in 2013. Seems inevitable really doesn’t it? We will never fully know whether the private equity owners of WorldPay drove it forwards or just surfed the wave nor whether RBS ownership would have held it back or worse. But we can see that as the UK and European establishment’s mixed the one part of the RBS business that has charged ahead and would have made a return for taxpayers was flogged off and the loss making dregs were kept. Also we know from experience that it will be nobody’s fault and could not possibly have been foreseen ( makes you wonder why anyone bought it…).

Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank

Reuters was on the case yesterday and they opening with something breathtaking.

Deutsche, the largest bank in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, emerged unscathed from the financial crash but later lost its footing.

Really? So the share price fall from 94 Euros to 24 Euros in eighteen months was a sort of unfortunate piece of timing! Or maybe not.

Deutsche and other European banks have taken longer to recover from the financial crisis, losing ground to stronger rivals from the United States.

Anyway as we expected last week the story continues to gain momentum.

Berlin wants a reliable national banking champion to support its export-led economy, known for cars and machine tools.

Deutsche Bank is hardly a champion and has been the opposite of reliable unless you are counting unexpected losses. But here is the Sunday news.

Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank confirmed on Sunday they were in talks about a merger, prompting labour union concerns about possible job losses and questions from analysts about the merits of a combination.

Germany’s two largest banks issued short statements after separate meetings of their management boards, a person with knowledge of the matter said, indicating a quickening of pace in the merger process, although both also warned that a deal was far from certain.

The choice of Commerzbank reminds me of the bit in the film Zulu when the Colour Sargeant Bourne answers the question why?

Because we are here lad. There’s nobody else, just us

Or as Reuters put it.

Other than Deutsche, Commerzbank is Germany’s only remaining big bank, after a series of mergers.

You would have thought that a series of mergers would have created other big banks as we already see signs of past trouble. Still why stop a plan which is performing badly? Also Commerzbank has its own issues.

Commerzbank, like Deutsche, has struggled to rebound, and German officials say it is vulnerable to a foreign takeover. If an international rival snapped it up, that would increase competition for Deutsche on its home turf.

Berlin also wants to keep Commerzbank’s speciality – the funding of medium-sized companies, the backbone of the economy – in German hands.

Problems

On the 11th I pointed out I was dubious about large losses in bond markets. But it would appear that the people we are regularly told are highly talented and worth large bonuses continue to do things like this.

Commerzbank, for example, has about 30.8 billion euros of debt securities such as Italian bonds that now have a value of 27.7 billion euros – a drop of 3.1 billion euros. A tie-up could crystallise this loss. Deutsche has such securities at market value in its accounts.

To make a loss in bond markets when they in general have seen surges and what the Black Eyed Peas would call “Boom!Boom! Boom!” is something else to look into. Also the government is caught in something of a spider’s web from it past actions concerning Commerzbank.

The government holds a 15 percent stake after bailing it out during the crisis, giving it an important voice.

If we move to the statement from Christian Sewing the CEO of Deutsche Bank we are left wondering “economic sense” for who?

What is also important to me is that we will only pursue options that make economic sense, building on the progress we made in 2018.

Comment

We are seeing ever more consequences of the zombie bank culture. In the UK the RBS saga has reminded us today that the rhetoric of the bailout which claimed that taxpayers would get their money back put a smokescreen over the reality that it involved selling what has turned out to be the most profitable part of it. That echoes as we note a bank worth less than half of what was poured into it. The “privatistaion of profits and socilaisation of losses” them gets turned up to 11 one more time.

Moving to the Deutsche Bank merger with Commerzbank let me open with the obvious issue that solving the Too Big To Fail or TBTF issue is not going to be done by making it even larger. They did manage a cosmetic name change to  G-Sifs or Globally Significant banks but that is it. Also arrows will be flying in the direction of Mario Draghi and the ECB about how its negative interest-rate policy has helped trap the banks in the zombie zone. They get help ( TLTRO is coming) in a liquidity sense but not in a solvency sense.

Also we are told the banks support the economy and yet this keeps turning up.

 A merger with Commerzbank would face opposition from unions, which expect as many as 30,000 jobs to be lost. And the combined bank would probably lose some business from German companies keen to diversify their sources of funding. ( Reuters)

For it to work we need plenty of smoke and mirrors as @jeuasommenulle points out.

Finally, an “amusing” one for the geeks: a very large part of the financials of the deal rely on the regulatory treatment of the negative goodwill the deal would generate (we’re possibly talking of 15-20bn€!)…….Positive goodwill is deducted from CET1, but negative isn’t – which does not make any sense if you ask me. Why is that ? Because when the CRR was drafted nobody thought of that so the wording is vague.

 

Will we always be second fiddle to the banks?

The situation regarding the banks is one that has dominated the credit crunch era as we started with some spectacular failures combined with spectacular bailouts. Yet even a decade or so later we are still in a spider’s web that if we look at say Deutsche Bank or many of the Italian banks still looks like a trap. Economic life has been twisted to suit the banks such that these days a new Coolio would be likely to replace gangsta with bankster.

Keep spending most our lives, living in the gangsta’s paradise
Keep spending most our lives, living in the gangsta’s paradise

Power and the money, money and the power
Minute after minute, hour after hour

Although upon reflection with all the financial crime that the banks have intermediated perhaps he was right all along with Gangsta. This morning has brought more news on this front as we note this from Sky News about HSBC.

HSBC has agreed to pay $765m (£588m) to the US Department of Justice (DoJ) to settle a probe into the sale of mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the financial crisis.

It is the latest bank to settle claims of mis-selling toxic debt before the financial crisis.

HSBC has paid a lot less than the  Royal Bank of Scotlandwhich agreed to pay $4.9bn in May and Barclays’ $2bn settlement with the DoJ in March.

This is just one example of the many criminal episodes emanating from the banks and if we stay with HSBC there was also this reported by The New Yorker.

 In 2012, a U.S. Senate investigation concluded that H.S.B.C. had worked with rogue regimes, terrorist financiers, and narco-traffickers. The bank eventually acknowledged having laundered more than eight hundred million dollars in drug proceeds for Mexican and Colombian cartels. Carl Levin, of Michigan, who chaired the Senate investigation, said that H.S.B.C. had a “pervasively polluted” culture that placed profit ahead of due diligence. In December, 2012, H.S.B.C. avoided criminal charges by agreeing to pay a $1.9-billion penalty.

The tale of what happened next is also familiar.

The company’s C.E.O., Stuart Gulliver, said that he was “profoundly sorry” for the bank’s transgressions. No executives faced penalties.

Yet in spite of all the evidence of tax evasion and money laundering in the banking sector the establishment bring forwards people like Kenneth Rogoff to try to deflect the blame elsewhere. First blame cash.

Of course, as I note in my recent book on past, present, and future currencies, governments that issue large-denomination bills also risk aiding tax evasion and crime. ( The Guardian )

Then should anything look like being some sort of competition raise fears about it too.

But it is an entirely different matter for governments to allow large-scale anonymous payments, which would make it extremely difficult to collect taxes or counter criminal activity.

Does he mean like the banks do?

Competition seems to get blocked

This morning has seen this reported by the Financial Times.

Britain’s peer-to-peer lending industry fears being stripped of one of its key advantages after the UK regulator proposed to block the access of many retail investors, alarming some senior executives in the nascent sector. “This is a moment,” said Rhydian Lewis, chief executive of RateSetter, one of the UK’s biggest peer-to-peer lending platforms. “They are looking to restrict this new industry and it is wrong. This is how things get stymied.”

Still in some ways it is a relief to see the Financial Conduct Authority or FCA actually have some powers as after all it was only last week they were telling us they were short of them.

Given the serious concerns that were identified in the independent review it was only right that we launched a comprehensive and forensic investigation to see if there was any action that could be taken against senior management or RBS. It is important to recognise that the business of GRG was largely unregulated and the FCA’s powers to take action in such circumstances, even where the mistreatment of customers has been identified and accepted, are very limited.

It is important to recall that this was a very serious business involving miss selling and then quite a cover up which the ordinary person would regard as at the upper end of serious crime. Businesses were heavily affected and some were forced into bankruptcy. Yet apparently there were no powers to do anything about what is one of the largest financial scandals of this era in the UK. It is hard not to mull on the fact that a few years ago the FCA was able to ban someone for life from working in the City of London because of evading rail fares.

However if you are a competitor to the banking sector you find that inquiries and regulation do apply to you. However what was the selling of derivative style products to small businesses somehow escapes the net.

It is not the banks fault

A very familiar theme has been played out since the Bank of England announced a rise in UK interest-rates at midday on Thursday. The reality is that many mortgage rate rises were announced immediately but as social media was quick to point out there was something of a shortage of increases in savings rates. Here is one way this was reported by the BBC over the weekend.

Millions of people could get a better return on savings by switching deals rather than waiting for banks to increase rates, experts say.

A huge number of savers leave money languishing in old accounts with poor rates of interest, often with the same provider as their current account.

The City regulator says they are missing out on up to £480m in interest.

So it’s our own fault and we need to sharpen up! As us amateurs limber up the professionals seem to be playing a sort of get out of jail free card that in spite of being well-thumbed still works.

Following the previous Bank rate rise in March, interest paid on half of all savings accounts failed to rise at all. Of those that did, the average rise did not match the Bank of England’s increase.Since Thursday’s rise there has been very little movement in rates,………..

Oh and March seems to be the new November at least at the BBC.

We also got a hint as to why the environment might be getting tougher for peer-to-peer lenders.

Bank of England governor Mark Carney suggests new entrants are increasing competition, creating better deals.

Comment

There is quite a bit to consider here as we look around UK banking. Looking at RBS there is the problem that the UK is invested at much higher levels. The 251 pence of this morning is around half the level that the UK government paid back in the day. Perhaps that explains at least some of the lack of enthusiasm for prosecuting it for past misdemeanours. Especially as the sale of 7.7% of its shares back in June illustrated a wish to get it off the books of the UK public-sector which still holds around 62%.

I note over the weekend the social media output of HSBC finds itself under fire reminding us of an ongoing issue..

Planning your next trip? Get cash before you go, to make the most of your holiday time.

The response is from Paul Lewis who presents Radio 4’s MoneyBox.

Dreadful advice. (a) HSBC rates not great (b) using a HSBC card abroad is subject to a hefty surcharge but using a Halifax Clarity card is not. This is why never go to a bank for advice it’ll only give you sales.

The old sales/advice issue rears its ugly head again as we note that the advice will of course be rather good for the profits of HSBC.

Moving onto the FCA and the Bank of England it is hard to see a clearer case of regulatory capture or as Juvenal put it so aptly back in the day.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Or who regulates the regulators?

 

 

What is it about RBS and the banks?

A major feature of the credit crunch was the collapse of more than a few banks as a combination of miss pricing, bullish expansionism and arrogance all collided. This led to the economic world-changing as for example the way we now have extremely low ( ZIRP) and in more than a few places negative interest-rates and of course all the QE bond purchases which are ongoing in both the Euro area and Japan. So lower short and long-term interest-rates and that is before we get to the cost of the bailouts themselves. The US and UK acted early but others took longer as my updates on Italy for example explain and describe. It’s Finance Minister ( Padoan ) even had the cheek to boast about not helping its banks which then created ever larger bad loans.

The essential problem is that this is still ongoing as the news from Royal Bank of Scotland overnight tells us.

Royal Bank of Scotland on Tuesday agreed a $500m settlement with New York State over mis-selling residential mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the financial crisis………..The agreement requires the bank to pay $100m in cash and to provide $400m of consumer relief in New York. It is the latest in a series of settlements with US authorities that has resulted in banks handing over $150bn in payments and fines since the crisis.

This is yet another in a series that feels like rinse and repeat but we are now a decade on from things heading south for RBS as on the 22nd of 2008 what was the largest rights issue ever in the UK took place. The £12 billion cash from that did not even last 6 months as on the 13th of October the UK government stepped in. In other words the documents from that rights issue look to have been about a misleading as they could be along the lines of Sir Desmond Glazebrook in Yes Prime Minister who when asked about the rules replied “They didn’t seem quite appropriate”.

So we have ended up with something that looks like a bottomless pit although as ever it is put PR style.

Ross McEwan, chief executive, said: “We have been very clear that putting our remaining legacy issues behind us is a key part of our strategy.”

Legacy issues indeed and of course a much larger one is on its way.

RBS, part-owned by the UK government, has set aside $4.4bn to deal with residential mortgage-backed security claims in the US and recently revealed its first annual profit in nine years.

This poses its own question as we mull the latest development which is for only one state.

Ian Gordon, an analyst at Investec, said the deal with New York was “a disturbingly large single-state settlement ahead of the main event”.

Any new settlement would add to this.

 

RBS has been trying to close the door on misconduct issues from the crisis and in 2017 agreed to pay £4.2bn to the US Federal Housing Finance Agency in relation to mortgage-backed securities.

What about the law?

This seems to have been missing from the banking sector and especially in the case of the 2008 rights issue of RBS. However this morning has brought news that you can be jailed for financial crimes. From the BBC.

A group of fraudsters who conned UK consumers out of £37m by selling passports and driving licences through copycat websites have been sentenced to more than 35 years in jail.

The six people, led by Peter Hall and including his wife Claire, operated websites that impersonated official government services.

Perhaps the establishment was upset by the way they were impersonated but we are left with the thought that as the crime was compared to the banks small-scale it could be punished. Along the way something seemed rather familiar though.

 “This was a crime motivated by greed. This group defrauded people so they could enjoy a luxury lifestyle.”

If we actually move to banking crime a somewhat different set of rules seem to apply. Yesterday the Financial Conduct Authority finally banned the man called the Crystal Methodist due to his drug taking proclivities but of course Chair of the Co-op Bank which nearly collapsed.

Mr Flowers was Chair of Co-op Bank between 15 April 2010 and 5 June 2013. The FCA found that Mr Flowers’ conduct demonstrated a lack of fitness and propriety required to work in financial services.

So our first thought is to sing along with the Doobie Brothers.

Gotta keep on pushin’ Mama
‘Cause you know they’re runnin’ late

After all most of us knew there was “trouble,trouble,trouble” as Taylor Swift would out it in June 2013. However when you see what he was banned for it is hard not to let off some steam.

The FCA found that while Chair Mr Flowers:

 

used his work mobile telephone to make a number of inappropriate telephone calls to a premium rate chat line in breach of Co-op Group and Co-op Bank policies;

and used his work email account to send and receive sexually explicit and otherwise inappropriate messages, and to discuss illegal drugs, in breach of Co-op Group and Co-op Bank policies despite having been previously warned about his earlier misconduct.

In addition, after stepping down as Chair, Mr Flowers was convicted for possession of illegal drugs.

As you can see destroying a bank and causing losses in some cases substantial to a large number of people does not appear on the charge sheet whilst calling a premium rate chat line does.

Helping the economy

We were told the economy would not be able to survive without the banks yet as time has gone on they are still deleveraging. From Which.

In December last year, RBS/Natwest announced that it was closing a staggering 259 bank branches in 2018 – a quarter of its branch network. That included 62 RBS and 197 NatWest branches, plus 11 Ulster Bank branches which were previously announced.

The UK taxpayer will also be grimly observing this as the share price falls another 5 pence at the time of typing this to £2.59 as opposed to the £5.02 paid for its holding.

Comment

There are various problems with the state of play. The first is the way that the law pretty much only applies one way regarding the banks. If we misbehave we can expect to be punished sometimes severely. I have no axe to grind with that until we note that it at best intermittently applies to the banks themselves and even less to those at the top of the food chain. For example whilst Santander is perfectly at liberty to pay bonuses which Nathan Bostock would have received at RBS this raises hackles to say the least when it was from the GRG section which wrecked havoc amongst so many small businesses. It seems that bank directors are even more an example of the “precious” than the banks themselves. If we do not make changes how can we expect matters to improve?

When a bank is bailed out we are never told the full truth as this emerges later and sometimes much later as the news today is around a decade after the event. When the truth requires drip feeding well that speaks for itself. Also I note that in the intervening decade this issue goes on and on. From the Financial Stability Board.

The activity-based, narrow measure of shadow banking grew by 7.6% in 2016, to $45.2 trillion for the 29 jurisdictions……..Monitoring Universe of Non-bank Financial Intermediation (MUNFI) – This measure of
all non-bank financial intermediation grew in 2016 at a slightly faster rate than in 2015 to an aggregate $160 trillion.

We need to take care as one day that will rise to a lot of money! Also wasn’t this supposed to have been a problem pre credit crunch?

 

 

Stresses abound at the Bank of England

The last 24 hours have seen something of a flurry of activity from the Bank of England. Yesterday Nishkam High School was the latest stop in what was supposed to be a grand tour of the country by its Chief Economist Andy Haldane. The was designed to show that he is a man of the people and combined with the expected ( by him) triumph of his shock and awe Sledgehammer QE and “muscular” monetary easing of August 2016 was supposed to lead for a chorus of calls for him to be the next Governor of the Bank of England. Whereas in fact he ended up revealing that at another school he had been asked this.

“Two questions”, she said. “Who are you? And why are you here?”

According to Andy this is in fact a triumph.

Several hours of introspection (and therapy) later, I now have an answer. The key comes in how you keep score. If in a classroom of 50 kids you reach only 1, what is
your score? Have you lost 49-1? No. You have won 1-0.

Perhaps that is the dreaded counterfactual in action. Could you imagine going to Roman Abramovich and saying that losing 49 games and winning one is a success? Of course you would be long gone by then. Anyway there is one girl at the “Needs Improvement” school who has shown distinct signs of intelligence as we note for later how Andy’s somewhat scrambled view of success might influence the bank stress tests released this morning.

What about monetary policy?

Andy has a real crisis here as of course he pushed so hard for the easing in August 2016 then a year later ( too late for the inflation it encouraged) started to push for a reversal of the bank rate cut and then voted for that earlier this month. Here is how he reflects on that.

The MPC’s policy actions in November were described as “taking its foot off the accelerator” to hold the car
within its “speed limit”. This was intended to convey the sense of monetary policy slowing the economy
slightly, towards its lower potential growth rate, while still propelling it forward overall.

According to Andy such a metaphor is another triumph.

It was a visual narrative. Because most people (from Derry to Doncaster, Dunfermline to Dunvant, Delphi to Delhi) drive cars, it was a local and personal narrative too. The car metaphor was used extensively by UK media.

Some are much less sure about Andy’s enthusiasm for dumbing down.

Andy Haldane cites the MPC’s recent use of the “car metaphor” as a success in attempting to engage the public. Which is fine. But I’d like to hear his thoughts on damage caused by bad/inaccurate metaphors (eg. “maxing out the country’s credit card”) ( Andy Bruce of Reuters )

Also there was a particularly arrogant section on inflation which I think I am the only person to point out.

This unfamiliarity with economic concepts extends to a lack of understanding of these concepts in practice.
For example, the Bank of England regularly surveys the general public to gauge their views on inflation.
When given a small number of options, less than a quarter of the public typically identify the correct range within which the current inflation rate lies. More than 40% simply say that they do not know.

Perhaps they find from their experience that they cannot believe the numbers and once you look at the data the 40% may simply be informed and honest.

Bank stress tests

The true purpose of a central bank stress test is to make it look like you are doing the job thoroughly whilst making sure that if any bank fails it is only a minor one. Also if any extra capital is required it needs to be kept to a minimum.This was illustrated in 2013 by the European Central Bank. From the Financial Times.

The European Central Bank has appointed consultants who said Anglo Irish was the best bank in the world, three years before it had to be nationalised, to advise on a review of lenders. Consultants Oliver Wyman, which made the embarrassing Anglo Irish assessment in 2006 in a “shareholder performance hall of fame”, has since been involved in bank stress tests in Spain last year and Slovenia this year.

To do this you need a certain degree of intellectual flexibility as Oliver Wyman pointed out.

Today one sees that differently.

Today’s results

Here is the scenario deployed by the Bank of England. From its Governor Mark Carney.

The economic scenario in the 2017 stress test is more severe than the deep recession that followed
the global financial crisis. Vulnerabilities in the global economy trigger a 2.4% fall in world GDP
and a 4.7% fall in UK GDP.
In the stress scenario, there is a sudden reduction in investor appetite for UK assets and sterling
falls sharply, as vulnerabilities associated with the UK’s large current account deficit crystallise.
Bank Rate rises sharply to 4.0% and unemployment more than doubles to 9.5%. UK residential
and commercial real estate prices fall by 33% and 40%, respectively.

Everybody at the Bank of England must have required a cup of calming chamomile tea or perhaps something stronger at the thought of all the hard won property “gains” being eroded. But what did this do to the banks? From the Financial Times.

In the BoE exercise, RBS’s capital ratio fell to a low point of 7 per cent – below its 7.4 per cent minimum “systemic reference point”, while Barclays’ capital ratio fell to a low point of 7.4 per cent – below its 7.9 per cent minimum requirement.

Regular readers will not be surprised to see issues at the still accident prone RBS which always appears to be a year away from improvement. Those who have followed the retrenchment of Barclays such as its retreat from Africa will not be shocked either. Students will also be hoping that falling below the minimum requirement will be graded as a pass by their examiners!

One move the Bank of England has made is this.

The FPC is raising the UK countercyclical capital buffer rate from 0.5% to 1%, with binding effect from
28 November 2018.  This will establish a system-wide UK countercyclical capital buffer of £11.4 billion.

This sounds grand and may be reported by some as such but it is in reality only a type of bureaucratic paper shuffling as the banks already had the capital so reality is unchanged. Oh and we cannot move on without noting the appearance of the central bankers favourite word in this area.

Given the tripling of its capital base and marked improvement in funding profiles over the past
decade, the UK banking system is resilient to the potential risks associated with a disorderly
Brexit.

Comment

We see the UK establishment in full cry. No I do not mean the royal marriage as that is not until next year. But we do see on what might be considered “a good day to bury bad news” with the bank stress tests occupying reporters time this from the Financial Conduct Authority.

The independent review found that there had been widespread inappropriate treatment of SME customers by RBS…….The independent review found that some elements of this inappropriate treatment of customers should also be considered systematic

We may end up wondering how independent the review is as we note it has only taken ten years to come to fruition! People who were bankrupted have suffered immensely in that dilatory time frame. Next on the establishment deployment came as I switched on the television earlier whilst doing some knee rehab to see the ex-wife of a cabinet minister Vicky Pryce expounding on the bank stress tests on BBC Breakfast. If only all convicted criminals saw such open-mindedness.

If we return to Andy Haldane then he deserves a little sympathy on the personal level after all it must be grim doing a tour of the UK when the purpose has long gone. It is revealing that his list of supporters has thinned out considerably although most have done so quietly rather than taking the mea culpa road. At what point will the criteria for success or failure that would be applied to you or I be applied to the Chief Economist at the Bank of England?