Global Investing

Banks: what price freedom?

November 3, 2008

What price freedom? Or at least freedom from government interference?

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.

 

Comments
3 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Banking has become a public service provider since the public bailed them out. Freedom hell best be glad you have a job!

Posted by Jim | Report as abusive
 

Freedom is always important for all private sector banks. If they find themselves not independent enough to make their own decisions, it would be a problem for the entire banking sector.

Posted by Diganta Kumar Barooah | Report as abusive
 

People don’t want freedom. Too much responsibility.

Posted by jason | Report as abusive
 

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/