Barclays facing pay row as profits slide 9%

Today's AGM won't be much fun for Barclays boss Bob Diamond, as he comes under fire for pay, commodity trading and dwindling profits...

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
Barclays' latest results, released ahead of this morning's AGM, haven't gone down too well in the City: its share price is down nearly 5% after the bank 'fessed up to an 8% drop in total income and a 9% drop in pre-tax profits, thanks partly to a weaker showing from its investment banking arm Barclays Capital. On a day when CEO Bob Diamond is facing protests about his own pay package and the bank's role in distorting commodity prices, that's not quite what the doctor ordered...

At £1.66bn, the bank's Q1 profits were well below the £1.8bn or so the City was expecting. And it's easy to see why: profits at BarCap - which has been the bank's biggest cash cow in recent years - slid by a third to £982m, in a quarter that tends to be the best one of the year for investment banks (would it have happened if Bob was still in charge, we wonder?). However, the good news was that its retail arm increased profits by a fifth to £692m, as losses from bad debts fell. It has also boosted its capital buffer to a very healthy 11%. And on an underlying basis, profits were actually up 10%. 'A good start... in a challenging external environment,' insisted Diamond Bob.

Barclays also said it was accelerating the wind-down of Protium, the controversial off-balance-sheet vehicle in which it dumped some of its most toxic assets back in 2009. Now Protium is a bit complicated for bears of very little brain like us, but the basic principle is that Barclays 'sold' £7.5bn worth of assets into this offshore fund, and 45 BarCap traders left the bank to run it down over a ten-year period. But the City never liked the opacity of it. Now Barclays has chosen to bring Protium back onto its books and wind it down by 2014 instead. (By way of compensation for this early exit, said traders are getting $83m in cash - nice little earner for them...)

All told, today's AGM at the Royal Festival Hall may be an uncomfortable experience for Barclays. The World Development Movement is protesting about Barclays' role in driving up food prices via its commodity trading (armed with 'Stop Bankers Betting on Food' placards). Investor groups are also grumbling about the bank's remuneration policies, including the potential £27m package for Diamond himself; some shareholders are unhappy about getting relatively stingy dividends while the bank's top stars continue to reap massive rewards (especially if, as figures suggested yesterday, there's an even weaker link between performance and pay)

Still, the good news - or bad news, depending on your point of view - is that Barclays won't use this as an excuse to cut and run. Diamond said today that the bank had had no discussions with foreign regulators about moving its HQ (a nice easy PR win, admittedly). 'We have been here for 320 years. This is our home,' said Bob. Albeit not quite as welcoming a home as he might like sometimes...

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