Banks: what price freedom?
Barclays needs to answer that question after selling big stakes to Middle East investors rather than tap taxpayer funds. The bank is effectively paying 13 percent annual interest for at least a decade, whereas it could have paid the UK Treasury 12 percent for a few years. Add in a whopping 300 million pounds in fees and the deal could cost shareholders as much as 3.2 billion pounds extra, Merrill Lynch reckons.
Barclays shares have lost almost 20 percent in two days and many investors aren’t happy about the cost and the bank riding roughshod over shareholders.
But it looks like a price worth paying. Sure, it’s more than Barclays had expected to pay, but sovereign wealth funds are in the box seat. All banks want SWF money so the investors can get good long-term deals. “Long-term” works both ways as well, and the deal should leave Barclays with a commercial advantage over rivals. Not constrained by government it can poach top staff, pick-up asset bargains and lend how and where it wants. Shareholders should start getting dividends by Q3 2009, long before semi-nationalised rivals.
Most importantly, there’s not a huge chunk of shares overhanging the bank. RBS and Lloyds TSB/HBOS investors face the prospect of the government selling a 58 percent stake and 43 percent holding when markets perk up. If Barclays executives pass up bonuses to show that’s not their motivation for the deal, they should be rewarded in the long run.