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Barclays risky assets move a little too cozy

Barclays has come up with an interesting way to solve an optical problem. Concerned that the bank’s shareholders are nervous about possible future writedowns of wobbly assets with a value of $12.3 billion, it has sold them to its own employees.

This isn’t necessarily a bad idea. But there are two things to dislike about this deal. First, it looks pretty cozy to sell to your own workers. And second, the deal looks potentially very favourable for the purchasers.

The deal does not remove the assets from Barclays’ balance sheet. What it does is allow the bank to pull them out of its mark-to-market book, where their carrying value is contingent upon the financial health of some monolines with whom Barclays has taken out credit insurance.

To do this it makes a loan to an entity, which then buys these assets. The loan still sits on Barclays’ books but does not have to marked to market. Even so its value is ultimately still tied to the performance of the assets.

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