Commentaries

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Now watch banks slither round the bonus curbs

Marcus Agius, the immensely wise chairman of Barclays, told a Spectator conference this week that his board paid “as little as we can get away with” to the hotshots under his command, but that to get the best, he had to pay the going rate.

Asked from the floor whether the (reported) 500 million dollars paid to Dick Fuld before the collapse of Lehman Brothers meant that he was the best, Agius could only mumble that he didn’t know Mr Fuld.

A few hours later, Barclays unveiled its latest answer to the popular demand that something be done to curb the grotesque rewards of the gilded few in banking. It is shuffling $12.3 billion of its grottiest assets, and the department in charge of them, off into a Cayman Island company which is barely credible as a stand-alone business.

The deal was greeted with almost universal criticism, but that will hardly worry Stephen King and Michael Keeley, its architects. As the announcement made clear, the “management fees and distributions to the partners” (at 7 percent) would be the priority payments. Any cash flow left over goes to service Barclays’ $12.6 billion loan (at US Libor plus 2.75 percent, or about 3 percent currently) and if things go wrong, the Barclays shareholders are back on the hook.

Yep, the banks really are gouging their customers

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Michael Saunders will get no thanks from his employers at Citicorp for pointing out how UK interest rates have swung dramatically against the borrower over the last two years.

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Bank Rate has plunged by 5.25 percent since July 2007, and two-year swap rates have fallen by 4.1 percent, but surprise surprise, the only rates that have come down anything like as far are those paid to the hapless retail depositor. For many of those wanting to borrow, the price has gone in the opposite direction – if they can get the money at all, that is.

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